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Three months in Ukraine

Iva Zimova’s 6th January photograph of a Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration in the tent chapel in Independence Square in Kiev

Background

21st Nov 2013 

President Viktor Yanukovych announces that Ukraine will not sign a planned trade agreement with the EU, saying that he doesn’t want to harm relations with Russia

24th Nov 2013

An estimated 100,000 people gather in Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti, known locally as “Maidan”) for the biggest protests to take place in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution of 2004. The protesters demand that Yanukovych reverses his decision to turn away from the EU in favour of stronger ties with Russia.

30th Nov 2013

Riot police disperse protesters from Independence Square using truncheons and teargas.

1st Dec 2013

Protesters occupy Kiev’s city hall and erect tents in the square.

8th Dec 2013

Up to 800,000 protesters fill Independence Square in the largest protest to date.

17th Dec 2013

President Yanukovych signs a deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who offers $15 billion towards paying off Ukraine’s debt and cuts the price of Russian gas.

Iva Zimova’s 6th January photograph of a Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration in the tent chapel in Independence Square in Kiev


January

MON 6th:Five weeks after the start of the occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square, protesters celebrate Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas Eve

Iva Zimova, Photojournalist

“We had a small Christmas Eve celebration in a tent chapel in Independence Square. Masses took place in the tent every morning and evening, and on Christmas Eve there were priests sprinkling attendees with holy water. In the clashes that followed a few weeks later, these priests stood between the Berkut, the elite riot police, and protesters. The tent chapel was burned to the ground by the Berkut in February.

I arrived in Kiev to document the Independence Square tent city in December. At the turn of the year it was peaceful in the square. People slept in huge army tents and there was a festival atmosphere, with musicians from across Ukraine performing folk songs. The pro-Yanukovych protesters had pitched tents in nearby Mariinsky Park, but they were brought in by buses – they didn’t sleep there. An old woman told me she’d been paid 200 hryvnia (£10.40) to join the pro-Yanukovych demo.

It was so peaceful back then. But everything changed on 19th January when protesters came up against the Berkut.”

ivazimova.com


East meets West


Sat 11th: Yuriy Lutsenko, an ally of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and leader of the Third Ukrainian Republic opposition party (est 2013), is injured in clashes with riot police in central Kiev. It’s reported that he is attacked by police while trying to break up the violence.

Thu 16th: The Ukrainian parliament passes legislation designed to curb protest and dissent despite the three main opposition leaders declaring the vote to be “illegitimate”. The poll is made by a show of hands rather than the usual electronic vote, leading to accusations of a coup by the ruling party. Opposition activists label the day ‘Black Thursday’.

Sun 19th: Opposition politician and former boxer Vitali Klitschko is sprayed with a fire extinguisher while urging demonstrators to calm down during major clashes between riot police and protesters in Kiev. Ignoring the new anti-protest laws, masked protesters armed with petrol bombs and stones are met by riot police equipped with stun grenades, water cannons and teargas. There are dozens of casualties on both sides.

Mon 20th: President Viktor Yanukovych responds to the protests in a statement issued a day after clashes between protesters and police.

“A threat not only to Kiev but to the whole of Ukraine”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wed 22nd: Protesters clash with police in central Kiev

Two protesters die after being shot by riot police in Kiev, the first fatalities since the start of  anti-government protests.

Opposition activist Yuriy Verbytsky is found dead in a forest close to Kiev. He has been beaten, tied up and left to freeze to death.

Tue 28th: The Ukrainian parliament votes by 361 to 2 to annul the controversial anti-protest laws less than two weeks after they were introduced. President Yanukovych had already agreed to abandon the legislation as a concession to the opposition, and in another concession, prime minister Mykola Azarov resigns along with his government.

Thu 30th: Opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov reappears after going missing for eight days. He claims he was kidnapped and tortured by “men with Russian accents”.

“They crucified me, so there are holes in my hands now. They cut off my ear, cut up my face. My whole body is a mess”

President Yanukovych announces that he is taking sick leave due to an acute respiratory illness and a high fever.


Andrey Taranov Anti-Yanukovych, protester and co-founder of communications consultancy Kwendi

The government might have formally resigned, but we protesters knew it was
a sham. They would remain acting ministers until new elections in the autumn.
If they had resigned in December 2013, we would have given the government more time. But by this stage the situation had become completely unacceptable. I had been demonstrating for two months by late January. On the night of 30th November, the police beat up demonstrating students; my eldest son is 15 and it felt like they were beating my own kid. That’s when I decided to participate actively, for the future citizens of this country. It was important to have a critical mass of citizens there at all times so I went for a couple of hours almost every day. The weekend after Yanukovych introduced the anti-protest laws there was a huge crowd because we thought if we don’t do something they will turn Ukraine into Belarus. We never had any intention to riot, but the fact is that it was only after the first fights took place that the president and government started to acknowledge us.


Laws annulled on 28th January

A ban on wearing a mask, scarf or helmet with the intention of concealing one’s face at a peaceful gathering. Punishment: Up to 15 days in prison

A ban on the unauthorised installation of tents or marquees, stages or sound equipment. Punishment: Up to 15 days in prison

The criminalisation of the slandering of Ukrainian government officials either in the press or on social media. Punishment: Up to a year in prison

A ban on any procession of more than five vehicles driving alongside each other. Punishment: Two-year confiscation of vehicle and licence

The criminalisation of the production, possession and dissemination of [ill-defined] “extremist” materials. Punishment: Up to three years in prison

A ban on NGOs receiving foreign funding that don’t register as “foreign agents”. Punishment: Non-compliant NGOs to be disbanded


February

Sun 2nd: Around 30,000 anti-government protesters gather at an opposition rally in Kiev’s Independence Square

US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland is forced to apologise for undiplomatic language after an audio clip of her conversation with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt is leaked and posted on YouTube. In the conversation, the officials express their frustration over the European Union’s hesitancy in responding to the Ukraine crisis. White House spokesman Jay Carney implies Russian involvement in the embarrassing leak, saying that since it had been “tweeted out by the Russian government, it says something about Russia’s role.”

“Fuck the EU”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton meets with Ukrainian opposition leaders Oleh Tyahnybok, left, Vitali Klitschko, middle, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, right, in Kiev

 

Fri 14th: The Ukrainian government releases all 234 protesters detained since the first protests in November. As part of the deal made with the government, opposition activists end their occupation of Kiev’s city hall.

Tue 18th: At least 22 people are killed and more than 200 are injured as police attempt to clear the opposition camps in Independence Square. Viktor Yanukovych blames “radical forces” for the deaths.

Thu 20th: Ukraine sees the bloodiest day in its recent history as around 70 protesters are killed in clashes with riot police. Many of the deceased are killed by sniper fire.

Natalie Sedletska, Journalist and member of Yanukovych Leaks

“I was in Prague on 22nd February and more and more news kept reaching me from Kiev. I had already decided that I had to fly to Ukraine the next day and then I heard that activists and journalists had found Yanukovych’s documents in the reservoir by his compound in Mezhyhirya and I realised I had to leave straight away.

I’d heard rumours of the president’s wealth and excessive lifestyle but it was almost impossible to get any evidence. We knew tiny details, like that Yanukovych owned an $80,000 lamp, but everything was top secret. Discovering these documents and getting into his residence was like finding treasure. Sometimes we just had to share information we read with each other – ‘Look at this spoon that costs €8,000!’, ‘How can a plate cost €10,000?’, ‘That chandelier costs €8 million!’. We couldn’t believe these things existed. Why would anybody need a bronze statue of a pig?

I arrived early on Sunday morning and joined a team of journalists I’ve known for a long time – they had already retrieved the documents from the water. There aren’t many investigative journalists in Ukraine because it can be dangerous and the media is mostly owned by politicians and oligarchs. I would end up staying seven days, working around 20 hours a day. We had to work hard because we were desperate to learn as much as possible and we feared that prosecutors would come, take the documents from us and say it was evidence in a criminal trial. When they did come, after seven days, they were really nice and let us finish our job first.

We devised a system for salvaging the documents. Firstly we had to separate them because they were stuck together. Then we put them in a room with professional heaters donated by academics from the National Library. After a day they could be scanned, and to ensure they survived we then put them in the sauna. We didn’t use guest rooms; instead we slept on sofas and in sleeping bags, and Maidan protesters donated food.

It has been wonderful for our project to be recognised by journalists and activists worldwide. It felt like a prize for all our work over the years; we’d fought hard for every piece of paper we uploaded. It was just incredible.”

Fri 21st: Yanukovych announces that he has reached a deal with the opposition to “settle the crisis”. Later in the day, a US official announces that Yanukovych appears to have fled Kiev.

Sat 22nd: The Ukrainian opposition establishes control of Kiev as Viktor Yanukovych surfaces in the eastern city of Kharkiv. The Ukrainian parliament votes to remove him from office and impeach him, and sets fresh elections for May. The opposition captures the presidential palace. Yulia Tymoshenko is released from jail after three years behind bars.

Russia’s 45th Special Forces Reconnaissance Regiment is airlifted from Kubinka to Anapa on the Black Sea. Units also fly in from from Pskov, home of the 76th Airborne Regiment

Journalists rescue an estimated 10,000 documents from a reservoir near Viktor Yanukovych’s seized estate in Mezhyhirya, 20 kilometres north of Kiev. The documents, which contain evidence of corruption, embezzlement and excess are salvaged, scanned and uploaded to yanukovychleaks.org.

Found at Mezhyhirya…

“I am not leaving the country for anywhere. I do not intend to resign. I am the legitimately elected president” – Viktor Yanukovych addresses the nation in a televised speech

Wed 26th: Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in Simferopol. Unidentified gunmen appear outside Crimea’s main airports. Yanukovych insists he remains president of Ukraine

Thu 27th: Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in Simferopol. Unidentified gunmen appear outside Crimea’s main airports. Yanukovych insists he remains president of Ukraine

Fri 28th: A missile boat of the Russian Federation blocks Balaklava Harbour in
Crimea where ships of the Ukrainian Sea Guard are stationed. Eight military helicopters fly into Sevastopol from a Russian base at Anapa. Crimean politician
and former governor of Sevastopol Serhiy Kunitsyn informs journalists that 13 Russian planes, each holding as many as 150 troops, have landed at Hvardiyske military airport north of Simferopol.


March

Sat 1st: Troops in unmarked uniforms take control of the coast guard base in Balaklava on the outskirts of Sevastopol, Crimea.

Julia Pazynyuk, 29-year-old mother of two and resident of Sevastopol, Crimea 

“Everyday life went on as normal. Schools and shops were open; theatre performances weren’t cancelled. But there had been a big change in Crimea which started after the coup in Kiev.

We were scared after what happened there on 22nd February. We did not know what to expect. On Ukrainian TV, Kiev was talking about sending us ‘trains of friendship” [speculation was rife that armed Maidan supporters would be sent to Crimea]. We could not allow disorder and the destruction of all we hold dear – our monuments, our heroic history, our language. Everybody here felt action was needed.

The day after the coup in Kiev there was a rally in Sevastopol’s main square which attracted the biggest crowd I’d ever seen here. The majority of Crimea never supported the Maidan protesters. We only had a year until Ukrainian elections and a democratic vote, so what was the point of violence? We elected a ‘people’s mayor’ by show of hands and people started creating local militia to defend ourselves; it was mostly men, but some women too. At this stage there was no talk of joining Russia. We could not even dream of it. Apart from self-defence, we hoped just for autonomy.”

Mon 3rd: Ukraine’s defence forces accuse the Russian military of giving them an ultimatum to withdraw from Crimea by 5am or face a military assault. Russia denies an ultimatum has been issued.

Sat 15th: The result of the Crimea referendum is announced as 96.8 percent in favour of integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation, with a turnout of 83.1 percent. Many loyal to Kiev boycott the referendum and there are allegations of fraud.

Sun 16th

Abduraman Egiz, Member of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people

“On the day of the so-called referendum, I was at the Mejlis, the elected representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, urging people not to succumb to provocations like the Russian flags that were everywhere, and to boycott the referendum. We are indigenous to this region but have been a minority since the deportations [to Central Asia, ordered by Stalin] in 1944.

We are the only pro-Ukrainian and pro-European political entity here and as such we face a lot of hostility. They’ve been handing out Russian passports but we want to remain Ukrainian. It’s tough because authorities now demand a Russian passport when you deal with state institutions.

No one can guarantee our safety. There’s no rule of law. We raised a Ukrainian flag in our building and men in military uniforms entered and replaced it with a Crimean flag. Some Ukrainians are moving to the mainland but we can’t do that. This is our motherland and we struggled for too long to return here [most Tatars only returned from exile in Central Asia in the 1990s]. We can’t abandon it now.”

Mon 17th: US sanctions on Russian officials are announced “for actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

Angela Stent US-Russia relations expert, Georgetown University

“The US didn’t have much in its arsenal because all military options were off the table. The idea was to sanction those closest to Putin but the problem with the early sanctions is that most of the individuals probably didn’t have assets in the US, so the actual impact on them was quite small. However, the sanctioning of Bank Rossiya has had an impact because the bank is close to the Kremlin and its customers can no longer use Visa and Mastercard. Perhaps the longer-term impact of the sanctions is that banks and foreign firms will think twice about working with Russia because the risk factor has increased. You do hear anecdotal evidence of the sanctions deterring possible future investors.

The Obama reset on Russia effectively ended when Russia granted Edward Snowden asylum. This is a new low point in post-Soviet US-Russia relations, worse than 1999 and the US bombing of Serbia or 2008 and the Russia-Georgia war. I’d say relations were better during the Gorbachev era than now.”

Tue 18th: Vladimir Putin addresses the Russian parliament to introduce a bill to absorb Crimea into Russia. He attacks Western hypocrisy and defends Moscow’s actions in Crimea.

“They are constantly trying to drive us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we tell it like it is and don’t engage in hypocrisy… Our Western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally”

Thu 20th: Russia responds to US sanctions with its own sanctions on nine US officials. The Russian list includes House of Representatives speaker John Boehner, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and senator John McCain. Those named will not be able to enter Russia.

Fri 21st: Vladimir Putin signs a bill into law that formalises Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Galina Teterina, Russian pensioner

“My 69-year-old sister lives in Crimea and is delighted to be joining Russia. She feels she’s returning home and most Crimeans feel the same. Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 [to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s merger with Russia], but like many Russians I have always felt it stayed Russian. Just think of its history and how many [Soviet] soldiers died in the Second World War defending Sevastopol.

Annexation has produced a new wave of patriotism here in Russia. Putin is greatly supported because he stands for peace. He does not meddle in Ukrainian affairs through military action. Without American money, the unrest in Ukraine wouldn’t have continued so long. Russia must now help Ukraine restore peace, calm and freedom.

Annexing Crimea is an economic burden to Russia – it’s a tourism zone without much else. But we’ll take on economic hardship to help the Crimean people. We could not push them away. It’s like a lost son who wants to come home. That’s how I see Crimea. We will take back our son. It is his will”

Wed 26th: The World Bank warns that Russia might see a record capital outflow this year if the crisis deepens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sat 29th: Crimean Tatars vote in favour of autonomy at a session of the Tatar national council in Bakhchisaray, Crimea. The council cites a 2007 UN declaration which states that indigenous people have the right to self-determination and autonomy.

“He protects what belongs to him and his predecessors…Parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states and Finland are states where Putin claims to have ownership”

Andrej Illarionov, Putin’s chief economic advisor from 2000-2005, claims in an interview in Svenska Dagbladet that Putin’s goal is to return to the days of the USSR under Stalin.

Carl Haglund, Minister of defence, Finland

In general Finns don’t feel threatened by Russia. However, it is true that the Ukraine crisis has made people more concerned about the security issues. Mr Illarionov’s remark was one of many opinions we have heard [during the crisis]. In a debate people sometimes make bold statements to emphasise their point. I think Mr Illarionov just wanted to underline his view that the western world must not give way to any Russian aspirations to expand… The comment was highly speculative and you cannot make parallel comparisons between the situation in Ukraine and the situation in Finland or the Baltic states.

Some of the other reports from the period [that Finland was increasing surveillance of its airspace and that its military leaders were alarmed by Russian air force drills on the countries’ shared border] were a bit sensationalist. A main task of the defence forces is to secure our territorial integrity and for that reason we survey the airspace and the land and sea areas adjacent to Finland. Whenever there is activity going on in the nearby areas, we intensify our surveillance. This happens several times a year and there is nothing dramatic about it.

Finland has condemned the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and all Russian attempts to violate Ukrainian territorial integrity.

In terms of future Finland-Russia relations, a lot depends on Russia’s future way of acting, how it develops relations with Finland and the rest of Europe. We hope the crisis in Ukraine can be settled without any more violence.

“We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov responds to Andrej Illarionov’s claims that Putin intends to claim more former Soviet territories.

 

 

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