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At least three people died and more than 300 others were injured, including several police officials, within the first few days of the worst riots in Ukraine since its independence from the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. The civil unrest, which began in November and continues despite a recent cease-fire, resulted from the struggle for influence in the country between Russia and the European Union. Citizens are split on the direction the government should take.
Referring to the scene in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev as “utter mayhem,” the Guardian described how people struck riot police “with lengths of pipes and sticks and hurled cobblestones the size of soccer balls into their midst,” adding that law enforcement officers destroyed a makeshift catapult.
“‘We’re on a crusade now,’ one man wearing a balaclava [ski mask] said, pointing proudly at the scrap-wood catapult, designed to fire cobblestones about 200 yards down range into the police, with presumably devastating effect,” The New York Times reported.
A bitter 14-degree Fahrenheit temperature did not stop protesters from keeping up “a near-constant bombardment of police lines near the Verkhovna Rada parliament in the capital,” The Australian stated. “The burned-out wrecks of half a dozen police vehicles torched and destroyed the day earlier were used by the crowds as a barricade.”
What had been two months of largely peaceful demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to pursue a large Russian bailout and reject a pact to integrate with the European Union finally turned violent after the Ukrainian parliament passed a law that targets public protests.
“Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt…called the new legislation ‘the most solid package of repressive laws that I have seen enacted by a European parliament for decades,’” the Guardian reported. “The European Union has called on Ukraine to repeal the laws.”
A 75-year-old woman wearing “a paper mask on her face and a saucepan on her head, to mock the recent anti-protest laws, which ban the wearing of helmets during rallies,” was quoted by the newspaper as declaring, “I’m very proud of our youth, who stood up at last for a free Ukraine and for a normal life.”
According to Belfast Telegraph, the recent crisis “has highlighted a divide in the country of 46 million people between those, particularly in Russian-speaking eastern areas, who identify more closely with a shared past with Russia, and those, especially in the Ukrainian-speaking parts of western and central Ukraine, who look westwards.”
The White House issued a statement warning the former Soviet republic’s administration that “further bloodshed will have consequences for Ukraine’s relationship with the United States,” Voice of America reported.
“Opposition leaders, including boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, are demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, early presidential elections and the lifting of recently-imposed restrictions on protests.”