A woman joined mourning for local high school students who were killed in clashes with riot police in Kiev.

Uriel Sinai • New York Times,

An anti-government protester held a crucifix as he prayed.

Marko Drobnjakovic • Associated Press,

A high-ranking police officer, left, and a protester representative talked near the Cabinet of Ministers in Kiev, Ukraine.

Efrem Lukatsky • Associated Press,

Protesters carried a wounded comrade on an improvised stretcher in Independence Square, where anti-government protesters and riot police used firearms Thursday.

Sergey Ponomarev • New York Times,

Ukraine on fire

Wednesday: President Viktor Yanukovych and protest leaders meet and agree on a truce, which quickly collapses.

Tuesday: Street clashes leave at least 26 people dead and more than 425 injured. The violence begins when protesters attack police lines and set fires outside parliament after it stalls on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Sunday: Opposition activists end their occupation of Kiev City Hall in exchange for the release of all 234 jailed protesters, in what is seen as a sign toward resolving the crisis peacefully.

Jan. 28: The prime minister resigns and parliament repeals new anti-protest laws.

Jan. 22: Two protesters die after being hit with live ammunition and the third after a fall during a confrontation with police, the first protest deaths.

Dec. 17: Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that Moscow will buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian government bonds and allow for a sharp cut in the price Ukrainians will have to pay for Russian natural gas. Putin and Yanukovych claim that there were no conditions attached to the agreement.

Dec. 1: A demonstration attracts about 300,000 people, the largest protest in Kiev since the Orange Revolution in 2004. Activists seize Kiev City Hall.

Nov. 30: Police launch an attack on protesters.

Nov. 21: Yanukovych’s cabinet said it is abandoning an agreement that would strengthen ties with the European Union and instead seeks closer cooperation with Moscow. The move comes after the country’s parliament refuses to pass a bill allowing the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Pro-Western protests begin in Kiev.

Associated Press

Young militants are backbone of Kiev protests

  • Article by: Andrew Higgins and Andrew E. Kramer
  • New York Times
  • February 20, 2014 - 9:26 PM

– As the center of the Ukrainian capital tipped into a maelstrom of gunfire and blood Thursday, a man wearing a helmet stood on a street corner near Independence Square, the epicenter of the violence, holding a leaf of printer paper.

“Guys,” he called out, “we are forming a new hundred. Please sign up.”

Anton Chontorog, 23, a computer programmer, joined a small crowd of young men who lined up to enroll in the “hundred,” the basic organizing unit of a strikingly resilient force that is providing the tip of the spear in the violent showdown with government security forces.

The sotni, as the units are called, take their name from a traditional form of Cossack cavalry division. Activists estimate at least 32 such groups are in Kiev now, with more forming all the time.

Chontorog said he had been in the square many times as a protester, but that after the violence Thursday wanted to commit himself to the fight, which meant following orders from a commander. “A volunteer just shows up to help,” he said. “A member of a hundred has obligations.”

Across Kiev and beyond, personal barriers that once defined the limits of behavior are crumbling, pushing this fractured but, until a few weeks ago, proudly peaceful nation of 46 million into chaos.

The Ukrainian authorities and their allies in the Kremlin identify the source of the increase in violence as extremists and terrorists, the young militants of sometimes sinister, far-right political affiliations with ideologies formed in the struggle against Polish and Soviet domination. They have provided much of the muscle in increasingly bloody clashes with the police.

Late converts to militancy

But there are thousands of other protesters who, like Chontorog, are late converts to militancy, who say they believe the government has left them with no choice by deploying so much lethal violence itself.

On Thursday, a few anti-government militants could be seen carrying weapons, but with reports that the police have killed more than 70 protesters, most of the gunfire clearly came from the other side of the barricades.

Nonetheless, the murky nature of the opposition gathered in Independence Square, at least on its fringes, creates a dilemma for the United States and the European Union, which would prefer a neat apposition of peaceful, prodemocracy demonstrators vs. the thuggish kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But that line of thinking often blurs in the streets.

The ambiguity was captured Thursday by a 25-year-old man wearing a mask who gave a blunt summary of his cause: “Nationalism is what I believe in,” said the man, who gave his name only as Nikolo. “The nation is my religion.”

Since the protests began in November, Nikolo has traveled six times from his home in Lviv to hurl rocks, and to prove that violence works.

‘Revolutions are violent’

“What have humanism and pacifism ever brought to any nation?” he asked, clutching a battered metal shield. “Revolutions are violent.”

Young militants like Chontorog and Nikolo are by no means the only presence on the streets. More typical, perhaps, is the 33-year-old manager of a U.S. telephone company here who drove his family car to the barricades and unloaded bags filled with empty glass bottles to help replenish the protest movement’s supply of firebombs.

“A week or even a few days ago, I would never have seen myself doing this,” said the well-dressed man, who gave only his first name, Viktor. “Now, I am ready to bring not just bottles but also gasoline.”

He added a commonly expressed view: “Of course I don’t like violence,” he said. “But violence is just a response to violence on the other side.”

But while the ranks of the protesters are diverse, the young militants are the foot soldiers in a deepening civil conflict, the steel that refuses to bend under the pressure of riot police officers and the looming threat of martial law.

“Some from the west are nationalists,” said Nikolai Visinski, an artist, standing on a barricade Thursday evening. “People just want to live in a free country,” he said.

© 2018 Star Tribune