by Carly Alvarez
On January 15, a Ukrainian court published a ban on mass protests in central Kiev, increasing opposition fears of a crackdown on current demonstrations.
Only three days before, over 50,000 protesters returned to Independence Square in support of the continued anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine.
Also known as Euromaidan, the protest movement experienced it’s peak in December with as many as 800,000 demonstrators occupying Kiev’s central square. Recent weeks experienced a significant drop in protesters, making Sunday’s rally the largest this year.
Mass demonstrations erupted in November after the President rejected a highly anticipated trade agreement with the European Union, choosing instead to strengthen economic and political ties with Russia.
The Opposition’s Demands
Protesters are demanding the resignation of several top members of the current Ukrainian government, including President Viktor Yanukovych and Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.
The three main opposition leaders, Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleh Tyahnybok are pushing for early presidential elections and accuse Yanukovych’s government of corruption.
The opposition is also calling for the release of political prisoners such as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, while simultaneously demanding accountability from police and officials responsible for using violence against protesters.
The Role of Violence
Yanukovych’s government has received international criticism for using violence as a means to intimidate opposition groups.
The most recent outcry came after Ukrainian riot police reportedly used clubs and tear gas to disperse opposition activists outside a courthouse in Kiev. Several activists were injured during the confrontation with police, including former Interior Minister and opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko who was severely beaten and concussed.
On December 24, prominent opposition journalist Tetyana Chornovol was driven off the road and brutally attacked hours after posting pictures of what she claimed was the expensive out-of-town residence of Interior Minister Zakharchenko. Although there is an ongoing investigation to arrest the perpetrators, Chornovol and opposition activists blame the government for being behind the attack.
The most significant case of police brutality occurred on the night of November 30, when helmeted police stormed Independence Square using batons and stun grenades to break up the crowds of protesters. TV footage documented repression by authorities including many instances of kicking and beating unarmed and seemingly defenseless protesters.
Opposition leaders have cited such incidents of violence to support their recent requests for international economic sanctions against Ukrainian officials. Klitschko reiterated the opposition’s emphasis on this topic, “Only personal sanctions against those who are the backbone of the Yanukovych regime can stop this regime”.
Anti-government protesters have blocked parliament in order to bring further attention to what they call a crackdown on activists. On January 14, Ukrainian opposition successfully blocked the first parliament session of 2014, demanding the establishment of a temporary commission to investigate local law enforcement’s illegal use of force against protesters.
The Ukrainian News Agency reported that the government has agreed to fulfill this demand in order to allow Parliament to prepare for a vote on Ukraine’s annual budget. Opposition leaders are against the draft budget, particularly its proposed increased in spending on law enforcement.
What Comes Next?
The opposition has threatened Yanukovych’s government with a general strike. Klitschko announced on Sunday, “In order to be heard, we are going to organize a national strike. First a short one, as a warning, and then a full-scale one that lasts a long time”.
Should Yanukovych refuse to resign, Klitschko, Yatsenyuk, and Tyahnybok are each planning to run in the first round of presidential elections to be held on February 26, 2015. Though each come from separate political parties, the three opposition leaders have stated that they will defeat Yanukovych by endorsing the candidate that receives the most votes in the first round.