For the Ukrainian population at large, Maidan had also become a national hymn, a paradigm – a shared point of view. At the end of 2013, due to Ukraine’s failure in signing the Association Agreement with the EU in Vilnius, it re-emerged in a new phrase: “EuroMaidan”. The word “Euro” was hugely popular by now, and not only because it represented a stable currency. It was becoming a prefix for many brands, goods and events. EUFA’s European Football Championship was called “Euro 2012,” so was the name of the European basketball championship “Eurobasket 2014”. Even “Euro-fences” were sold (otherwise the same as ordinary Ukrainian or American ones). Mockingly, bad repairs were wryly referred to as “EUrepairs”, as house owners were willing to pay more for something mediocre if it involved word “Euro”.
In politics, it was from November 2013 to February 2014 that “EuroMaidan” and “AutoMaidan” electrified popular politics, too. How did this come about?
Sensing a change in government direction after the Putin-Yanukovych meeting in Minsk, Yuriy Lutsenko, a former Interior Minister in several governments and one of the organizers of the “Ukraine without Kuchma” and the “Orange Revolution”, called on November 13, 2013, on opposition parties to hold mass rallies in support of the signing of the Association Agreement and, in particular, for a rally on 24 November in support of European integration in Kyiv. New media were used to alert Ukrainians, and an SMS was sent to cell phone users saying: “When you receive an SMS, vote for the EU!”
Lutsenko was ahead of the government by a week. On November 21, 2013, a few days before the EU’s “Eastern Partnership” summit in Vilnius of November 28-29, where Ukraine was supposed to sign the agreement, the Ukrainian government dramatically announced that it was suspending the process in a statement by Prime Minister Azarov.
Appeals to gather on Kyiv’s Independence Square to protest began circulating on social media. By 10 p.m., more than a thousand people had gathered, demanding that the agreement be signed. Opposition leaders spoke at the rally, accusing the Ukrainian government of derailing its European integration policies.139 The next day, despite a ban by city officials, protesters began to set up their Maidan tent city (soon some 15 tents and 20 booths were up) like they had for Ukraine without Kuchma and the Orange Revolution protests. Andriy Parubiy, a member of Tymoshenko’s party, became its mayor.
On November 22, rallies followed in many other cities in support of the signing of the association agreement with the EU: 2-3 thousand people protested in the western Ukrainian cities of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Rivne, Ternopil and Vinnitsa. Much smaller protests from 50-500 people were held in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Krivoy Rog, Sumy and Kharkiv.
On November 24, Lutsenko’s peaceful mass rally took place. According to officials, up to 50 thousand people participated, but according to unofficial data, there were more than 100 thousand protesters, 20 thousand policemen and 40 independent observers and journalists. The protesters spoke in support of European integration under the slogan “For European Ukraine” and announced the beginning of a permanent protest. Speakers included Tymoshenko’s daughter Yevhenia who read out an appeal from her mother from Kharkiv prison.140
The protesters, who called themselves the “People’s Assembly”, adopted a resolution demanding the resignation of the government “for betraying national interests”, calling for an immediate session of the Verkhovna Rada on November 27 to debate and adopt the laws necessary for Ukraine’s EU integration. In addition, the protesters demanded the dissolution of parliament and snap elections, an end to political repression and the release of Tymoshenko, the resumption European integration and the signing of the Association Agreement in Vilnius in two days time. “In case the President refuses to fulfill his constitutional duties and does not sign the agreement,” the protesters planned to “seek the impeachment of President Yanukovych for high treason and call on all democratic countries of the world to immediately apply personal sanctions against Yanukovych and representatives of his corrupt regime”; to mobilize all parties, public organizations and citizens who support the European integration of Ukraine to hold protests “until complete victory”.141
Some demonstrators tried to break through to the central hall of the building where the national government was based and others blocked the passage of government vehicles. In response, several hundred members of Berkut positioned themselves at the entrance, clashing with a small group of demonstrators. They used batons and tear gas, while protesters sprayed gas as well and threw several home-made explosives.
The events of November 24 resonated throughout Ukraine. EuroMaidans were held in all major cities. In Lviv, a rally in support of European integration now drew about 10,000 participants, most of them students from Lviv universities. A much smaller number of participants (from 300 to 500 people) gathered at monuments in honor of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in eastern Ukraine – in Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk, Mykolaiv and Odessa. More than two thousand supporters of European integration also gathered in Kharkiv. Many rallies were held under the slogan: “Yanukovych resign!” In border town Luhansk, the first clashes took place. Many EuroMaidan participants from other Ukrainian cities went to Kyiv to support the EuroMaidan.
In parallel with pro-European integration rallies, in many cities in southeastern Ukraine there were anti-Maidan demonstrations, often organized by local authorities that sided with Yanukovych and opposed the country’s European direction. Thus, anti-rallies were held in Donetsk, Sevastopol, Odessa, and Kherson, where participants demanded that Ukraine join the Russian Customs Union. Many demonstrators, in particular miners in Donetsk, were forced to go to the city’s central square after their night shift. A similar “anti-Maidan” demonstration was organized by the authorities in Kyiv.
On the eve of the Vilnius summit, there was relative calm on Kyiv’s central square. Everyone expected that the government would listen to “the opinion of the people” and sign the Vilnius agreement. The same opinion was held by the majority of international observers. One or two thousand protesters still gathered in Kyiv itself. But in other cities in the country, the protests all but disappeared.142 Foreign politicians and OSCE observers visited the Kyiv Maidan. This irritated not only the Ukrainian government but also Moscow, which began accusing the West of “interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs”.
On November 26, students at a number of universities went on strike. The administrations of the universities of Kyiv and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy released students from their lectures so they could demonstrate. Students from the western regions of Ukraine, particularly from Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk, came to support their Kyiv peers. The fact that students began to play an active role meant a broadening of the protestors’ social base and indicated that the young and educated part of society wished to see its country integrated into Europe, rather than turning back to the feudal relations of the Russian Customs Union. Pollsters estimated that over 70 percent of Ukraine’s youth supported European integration and opposed orientation toward Russia.
On November 28-29, in the capital of Lithuania, in the Palace of the Grand Dukes a two-day summit of the European Union “Eastern Partnership” was held with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus in attendance.143
Despite Azarov’s announcement of November 21 that Ukraine would not sign, Yanukovych went to Lithuania in the hope of convincing his European partners of the need to find a joint solution to the “Ukrainian issue”. Yanukovych still said that Ukraine’s European course remained unchanged. But in Vilnius few believed this now.
The lengths to which Yanukovych had yielded to Putin became clear that day. He wanted Russia to join the Ukraine-EU negotiations. But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made it crystal clear that there would be no trilateral talks including Russia: “We have already agreed an Association Agreement with a sovereign country. When we reach a bilateral agreement, we do not allow a third country to interfere in these negotiations. There can be no trilateral format for a bilateral agreement on trade.” Barroso was supported by the hostess of the summit, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite: “The European Union will definitely not do secret deals with the Ukrainian leadership”. No one wanted to take an official meeting with Yanukovych on Russian involvement in his country’s agreement.
All EU leaders made it clear that they considered Yanukovych’s proposal to give Putin negotiation power over Ukraine’s population a non-starter. They, however, did give Yanukovych the opportunity to sign on the second day of the summit. He had one more day to make his fateful decision. The heads of EU states and governments, knowing that Yanukovych’s officials were still hoping to hear from Yanukovych himself, wanted to hear what the Ukrainian President actually planned to do: if and when Ukraine would sign the agreement; if it would take time out, for how long; if it would haggle for new terms of the agreement, then what they would be. But Yanukovych said little.
On the second day of the summit, the world press was riveted by what was happening in Vilnius. The leaders of the EU, Georgia and Moldova initialed their Association Agreements. But would Ukraine sign it? In Ukraine people were on tenterhooks in anticipation, but no miracle happened. Viktor Yanukovych did not join the other participants and did not sign the agreement.144
As soon as it became known in the evening of November 29 in Kyiv that President Yanukovych had not signed, masses of people began to flock to the center of the capital. In return, the government organized its own rally in support of the President’s actions, but a much larger number of protesters now gathered on Kyiv’s Maidan. Opposition leaders who spoke at the rally called again for Yanukovych’s resignation, accusing him of treason, and the protesters passed a resolution to this effect. The government began amassing personnel, including riot squads and other Interior Ministry units, in the center of the capital.
By 4 am on November 30, a large police forces and about 300 riot police were directed into the square. Under the pretext of “preparation for the New Year,” the “cleansing” of the Maidan city began. The protesters refused to disperse and resisted the police. When batons and tear gas were used, protesters were forced from the Maidan into the streets adjacent to the square. The Berkut used batons to beat the protesters who straggled and did not spare girls and women. This galvanized the protesters. They started to use bottles, stones, iron bars, and sticks to fight back. Hospitalized protesters were often taken directly from A&E rooms to the police for interrogation. More than 30 people were arrested, but after being given citations for minor offenses, most of them were released.
After the dispersal of demonstrators in Kyiv on the night of November 30, a mass rally began again on Mykhailivska Square, not far from Khreshchatyk Avenue, Kyiv’s main street, and EuroMaidan, with over 15 thousand participants. Demonstrators settled in to fight to the bitter end. On the night of December 1, paramilitary street fighters of the “Right Sector”, whose leaders had long stayed hidden on the sidelines, joined the protesters. In particular, Right Sector participated in clashes with internal troops and the Berkut units of the Interior Ministry guarding Kyiv’s government district, in the seizure of several government buildings, and during the storming of the Presidential Palace on Bankova Street. At the same time, “Maidan Self-Defense” units headed by Maidan mayor Andriy Parubiy were formed. Later it would become clear that the first of three groups of Russian secret-service groups landed in Kyiv in December.
The Right Sector was an alliance uniting activists from a number of Ukrainian nationalist and soccer organizations. The Right Sector carried out its own propaganda, fundraising and recruitment. Along with the “Maidan Self-Defense”, they formed the backbone of the EuroMaidan and served as both external and internal security. However, some opposition leaders accused Right Sector of provoking the police and Berkut to act violently against protesters and against random bystanders – who were frequently struck by batons of the police and special forces. In the clashes, both protesters and police officers were injured.
Initially, Right Sector did not lay down demands of its own. Their political independence manifested itself somewhat later, when its leader claimed to be the third party in the negotiations between the authorities and the opposition. The core demands of the Right Sector were on the face of it not very different from the other protesters: immediate resignation of President Yanukovych, dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada, punishment of heads of security agencies and perpetrators of “criminal orders” that resulted in the murder of about a hundred Ukrainian citizens. The leader of the Right Sector was Dmitry Yarosh, head of the nationalist group “Stepan Bandera’s Trident”. According to him, the Maidan was a prompt to start a “national revolution,” which was to culminate in “the complete removal of the regime of internal occupation and the creation of a Ukrainian national state with a system of all-encompassing national democracy.”145
On December 1, the government’s show of force provoked protesters to seize administrative buildings, in particular Kyiv City Hall, and gave the opposition an excuse to form its National Resistance Headquarters at the House of Trade Unions.146 The Right Sector made its headquarters at the Dnipro Hotel, which was also in the epicenter of the unrest. Self-defense units began to be formed as people signed up to join them. Opposition leaders called for the formation of regional labor committees to hold a national protest strike, and former boxer and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko called on the people of Lviv to take part in the “For a European Ukraine” march. In response, more than 10,000 people came to Kyiv from Lviv.
Demonstrators began to converge in Kyiv on the central EuroMaidan where a People’s Assembly was to be held. A large flag of Ukraine was carried in front of the rally, and more than 100 thousand people gathered on Independence Square.147 European diplomats, Vice President of the European Parliament Jacek Protasiewicz, former President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, former head of the Polish government, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyński, also took part in the demonstration.
During the rally and opposition speeches near the Presidential Palace, there were new clashes between the demonstrators and the police and Berkut guarding it. A tractor was used against the police, which tried to ram the line of Berkut officers. Some of the demonstrators used Molotov cocktails, stones, and metal chains. Two opposition Rada deputies, future President Petro Poroshenko and Oleksandra Kuzhel, arrived at the scene and urged the protesters not to give in to provocations by government-paid “titushkas” (mercenaries).148 Klitschko tried to calm people down, talking about an attempted provocation by the authorities to break up People’s Assembly, and urged demonstrators to return to the square: “I call on everyone to stay on Maidan today… we are doing everything to protect you… we must mobilize everyone in the country and not lose the initiative.” He said that “everyone who will stay tonight and tomorrow can get warmed up, get a hot meal and spend the night at the House of Trade Unions.”
On the same evening, demonstrators tried to tear down the Lenin monument, but Berkut prevented it. Another opposition leader called for the blockade of government buildings and the central part of the city.149 More than 165 people, including 50 law enforcers, were injured as a result of the clashes that began. Over 100 people were hospitalized with head injuries and chemical burns to the eyes from the use of tear gas. Mass rallies in support of the Kyiv Maidan began across the country, demanding the resignation of the President and the government, especially Interior Minister Major-General Zakharchenko and Attorney General Pshonka.
“Heating centers” for Maidan participants were set up everywhere, as it was ten degrees below zero. On December 2, protesters seized the October Palace cultural center so that Maidan participants had a place to sleep, get warm and have hot food. On the Maidan, they set up additional hot food and heating stations and medical tents to provide first aid to the injured. People did not go home. On the same day, AutoMaidan, a column of some 300 cars flying Ukrainian flags, tried to break through to President Yanukovych’s opulent country residence Mezhyhirya that he rented for $40 a month. They were stopped by the police and Berkut. Then the protesters blocked Kyiv’s Mykhailo Hrushevsky Street and the entrance to government buildings so that the civil servants could not get to work. Fixed barricades began to be erected around Independence Maidan and on Mykhailo Hrushevsky Street, both for defense purposes and to immobilize Kyiv’s national-government quarter.
Virtually the entire center of Kyiv was now blocked by protesters. Many ordinary residents of Kyiv came to offer help to the mainly young student protesters, providing food, clothing, and medicine where necessary. The government began mobilizing more personnel and additional police and Berkut from other regions to protect government buildings in the capital. Yanukovych and Azarov demanded that the opposition remove their barricade of state institutions in order not to interfere with the work of the government, but these demands were ignored by the protesters, who in turn demanded their resignation.
On December 3, the opposition submitted a draft vote in the Rada of no confidence in the government. But it was not adopted, and the barricade around the Presidential Palace was sealed off on all sides. These events could not but affect the political elite. Well-known politicians announced their withdrawal from Yanukovych’s party.150 Chief of Staff Serhiy Lyovochkin resigned. Significantly, the media, especially television, covered the events on Maidan without cuts or censorship. People all over Ukraine and beyond saw exactly what was happening in Kyiv, the level of mass disorder, and the government’s brutality in dispersing demonstrators. A group of enterprising journalists created Public Television which covered the events on Maidan around the clock.
Yanukovych hastily distanced himself from the violent dispersal, saying that he was “deeply indignant” at the actions of the law enforcement agencies. At the same time, he called on the demonstrators to stop protesting: “I reaffirm – we are united in choosing our common European future. Yesterday we completed the Vilnius summit, which showed that we and our European colleagues have a common understanding of the problems that exist and a common desire to work to overcome them”, pretending that he was once again ready to consider the question of Ukraine’s accession to the EU. But it was too late: he was neither believed nor paid attention to. The revolution in Kyiv had begun. It was impossible to stop it now.
The brutal dispersal of the Maidan participants was viewed differently by official authorities in different regions of the country. The regional councils of the Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, and Lviv regions largely condemned the actions of the authorities and revoked the authority of the regional governments; Yanukovych’s factions in western Ukraine announced their separation from the national party. The eastern regions, however, supported measures “to bring order to the country.” They underlined the right of people to freedom of self-expression, but called on the opposition to refrain from rash actions that could lead to a civil war in Ukraine.
Somewhat different was the reaction of officials in Crimea. Its leadership supported the Yanukovych’s policy to suspend European integration, speaking out against “the actions of destructive opposition political forces,” calling on the Azarov government in Kyiv to “restore order” and, if necessary, “declare a state of emergency.” Its State Council called for “all efforts to preserve Crimea as a territory of stability and interethnic harmony and to strengthen friendly relations with Russia.”
Some Ukrainian diplomats, including Ukraine’s representative to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev – as well as representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in many European countries, US, and Canada – also condemned the actions of the authorities. Hoping to appease the opposition and save the situation, Yanukovych accepted the resignations of the Kyiv Interior Ministry chief Valery Kornyak, as well as the Interior Minister himself, Major-General Zakharchenko. The latter was forced to apologize to the public for the abuse of power by the police and Berkut.
However, Yanukovych’s power was slipping. Throughout December, rallies in support of the Kyiv protesters continued uninterrupted across the country. The OSCE commission which met in Kyiv at that time brought along deputies from the EU’s European People’s Party to the Maidan, who spoke in support of the opposition. Catherine Ashton, First Vice-President of the European Commission, and Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State, met with President Yanukovych and conveyed to him the European and US views on the need to resolve all issues in a peaceful manner. Victoria Nuland appeared on the Kyiv Maidan the next day and handed out bread and cookies to the protesters, which looked very comical, since the protesters had plenty. US politicians could not understand that it was not food that the protesters needed, but real US support in the fight against the hated party-oligarchic regime.
As Nuland was feeding the “needy”, Azarov’s government agreed to negotiate with the opposition on condition that they lift the barricade of the government’s offices. But the opposition held firm and insisted on his resignation and release of protesters arrested by the police.151 During the same period, a group of activists led by a deputy from the nationalist Freedom (Svoboda) party demolished a monument to Lenin in Kyiv’s Bessarabskaia Square erected there in 1946. This served as a kind of signal to the removal of monuments to the leader associated with the Soviet regime and Russia in many cities of Ukraine. The campaign of demolition of Lenin monuments was popularly called “Leninfall”, but in some places, for example in border town Kharkiv, city authorities did not allow the demolition of his statutes (later the governor of the Kharkiv region, though, would have the monument dismantled).
On the evening of December 7, Yanukovych caved in and held the first round of talks with opposition leaders, who demanded early Presidential Elections in addition to their previous demands. A compromise was not reached, but a dialogue had started. On December 19, the Verkhovna Rada ordered the release the protesters who had been arrested in a resolution. On December 22, another People’s Assembly was held on Kyiv’s Maidan, which decided to create the “Maidan People’s Front”, whose leadership included the leaders of the revolution and well-known political figures, artists, and Maidan activists. Well-known Russian opposition activists Ilya Yashin and Konstantin Borovoy were also present at the Assembly.
Yanukovych had executed Putin’s Minsk script in Vilnius. How would the Russian President respond to being cheated of having a Ukrainian President he controlled?