This has been a violent and turbulent week for Ukraine. The downtown square in Kyiv looks like a war zone, because it was. As far as we know this many lives have not been lost at the hands of others since World War II.
After the violence on Tuesday there was relative peace on Wednesday. Tires burned in a circle around Maidan, but there was no real violence on the square. Public transportation was shut down, trains to the west didn’t run, and check points into and out of Kyiv made transit difficult. Toward the end of the day there was talk of “anti-terror” measures or martial law but nobody was sure what would happen. Ambassadors from France, Poland and Germany arrived in Kyiv. Because of sanctions that restricted visas, planes of fleeing parliamentarians (ironically headed to various countries in the EU) were not permitted to land and turned around to head back to Kyiv. Around 11pm a truce was brokered to stop the Berkut from trying to clear the square.
That truce was shattered early on Thursday morning as the protestors didn’t believe the president would keep his word. They worried that a truce would give more time for government reinforcements or for the president to carry out his threats of declaring an “anti-terrorist” operation that would allow him to use any means necessary to stop a “terror threat.” I haven’t been able to verify if the protestors fired first to push the police back or if they responded to Berkut setting fire to the music conservatory that is adjacent the square, but the protestors took up arms and began to shoot back at the Berkut to push them back from the square. The Berkut responded with gunfire and throughout the day the square was a bloody mess of wounded and dead as the protestors pushed the Berkut out of the square and back toward the government buildings. The government responded by arming the Berkut and police and allowing the use of lethal force. Snipers were positioned atop building surrounding the square. Many, many died. The footage of the events is shocking to watch. We sat watching stunned, sad and scared. The death toll was above 75, with 1000 injured.
Meanwhile public transport was mostly shut down in the city, roving gangs of mafia-type thugs (called titushki because Titushko is the last name of one of them in a group who beat up a journalist and then was not charged with any crime) terrorized various areas of Kyiv provoking violence, setting cars on fire, and making the whole city of Kyiv very unsafe. These groups of thugs were also reported in various cities throughout eastern Ukraine as well as some western cities.
The US embassy evacuated family of the staff, schools in Kyiv were closed, businesses closed. There was an attempt to keep the media from covering the day’s events as Channel 5 experienced “technical difficulties” in the morning and their website was down for awhile, the Kyiv Post’s website was down for several hours.
By late afternoon the country was reeling from the violence. Late in the evening a quorum was formed in parliament during which a special measure was passed that ordered all police to cease fire, return to barracks, and be disarmed, all road blocks were to be cleared and transit to be restored, and the anti-terror operation was cancelled.
Friday was a day of mourning.
There was no further violence as Berkut troops were transported home or simply stood guard at government buildings. The Lviv state police came to the rally in Kiev and said they would support the Ukrainian people; not the government. The opposition politicians worked out a deal with the president to end the crisis and parliament passed a series of measures to bring back the 2004 constitution which would limit presidential powers. The constitution would go into effect by September and there would be an early presidential election in December 2014 (instead of March 2015). The ruling party, the Party of Regions fractured more and more throughout the day as politicians, governors, and mayors throughout Ukraine left the party.
In the evening there was a funeral service on Maidan for those slain. As the politicians announced the deal they had worked out the crowd began to boo and shout. They then carried a casket to the stage shouting “who will pay for this?” One of the protestors who had led a unit of men in pushing the Berkut out of the square took the stage and said that they would settle for nothing less than the resignation of the president and the prosecution of those responsible for killing Ukrainian civilians. Another leader of the protest movement took the stage and announced that the government had until 10am Satuday morning to impeach the president or for the president to resign or else they would take up arms against the president.
Friday evening throughout Ukraine protestors took over government buildings. Statues of Lenin were symbolically destroyed. Neighborhoods organized “people’s defense” groups that patrolled to keep the titushki out, set up road blocks to keep buses of tituski from going to Kyiv or entering cities (in Kaharlyk a group set up a road block and turned a bus of titushki back so they couldn’t go to Kyiv).
Nobody was sure what today would bring. What would the president do in response to the threats? Would there be more violence today? There are some reports that the president wanted to respond with military force, but was unable. He is rumored to be in Kharkiv but it is not clear where he is. There have been reports of 65 private presidential jets landing in the United Arab Emirates. There was talk of impeaching him due to him fleeing the capitol and or the country during this time.
Parliament has held an emergency meeting and is working to vote on a constitutional act that would enact the 2004 constitution now and then appoint a cabinet.
The Interior Ministry posted a message on their website to all police officers in Ukraine that the police serve the people of Ukraine and share the people’s desire for change and called on the public to work with the police to keep order.
As I sat this morning to finish for tomorrow’s sermon I read through Isaiah 9:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
My prayer is that this light would shine on Ukraine and that they would look to the Prince of Peace for hope and comfort after this week's tragedies.
Now I need to figure out how to preach this sermon tomorrow.