who started the violence on march 9?

not surprisingly, both demonstrators and police blame the other side. in reality, it’s not quite that simple.

what is clear is that a group of young demonstrators planned on lodging a small display of force to embarrass president leonid kuchma in retaliation for the authorities’ destruction of their protest encampment on khreshchatyk on march 1.

but it was not those young demonstrators, but a group of feisty middle-aged women, who were the first to tangle with police on march 9.

problems started in the early-morning hours in shevchenko park. at exactly 4:00 a.m., police asked protest organizer yury lutsenko and the 150 demonstrators who had gathered with him to vacate the park while security personnel screened the area for bombs.

according to lutsenko, an adjutant of colonel oleksandr savchenko, deputy head of the kyiv main directorate of the internal affairs ministry, gave his word as an officer that protesters would be allowed to return after a security detail had cleared the area.

it didn’t turn out that way. several hundred plainclothes police quickly moved in to form a human shield around the statue of 19th-century poet taras shevchenko, at which kuchma was scheduled to lay flowers at 11:00 a.m. uniformed cops simultaneously formed a similarly impenetrable chain around the entire park.

demonstrators, led by opposition lawmakers, attempted to re-enter the park. they were at first gently, then firmly turned away, as were accredited journalists covering the event.

“we have our orders,” explained the commander of the checkpoint established on the western side of the park, where photographers and about 300 activists had assembled by 7:30 a.m. “you do your job, i’ll do mine and no one will get hurt.”

the first scuffles occurred minutes later after two dozen middle-aged women led by socialist deputy valentyna semenyuk attempted to peacefully enter the park.

they pushed police — the police pushed back.

when semenyuk bent over to pick up her hat, a policeman rapped her on the head and hands with his baton.

several young men carrying flowers and wearing “for truth” bandanas joined the group, shouting “let us pass.” as the noise picked up, several hundred protesters crossed shevchenko boulevard to join the fray.

still, the violence amounted to little more than shoving matches until, at 8:20 a.m., about 50 unarmed youths mounted a series of runs at helmeted riot police standing ten deep along the corner of volodymrska and shevchenko boulevard.

that touched off isolated skirmishes among small groups of fist-swinging protesters and baton-wielding police. although these fights made good television footage, they were brief and largely harmless, with few injuries reported.

the skirmishes abated after a column of helmeted riot police moved in from the rear, executing a pincer maneuver.

meanwhile, violence had flared up elsewhere. at 8:15 a.m. a brawl broke out between a handful of protesters and police on a two-story roof at nearby shevchenko university.

television cameras captured an unarmed tetyana chornovol, the 90-pound press secretary of right-wing party una-unso, fighting with police, then being tossed off the roof.

“our [original] plan was to jump on the backs of the riot police to allow demonstrators to dash past police to the statue,” chornovol said.

the sheer number of police on hand at the park — 2,000 officially, 4,000 by some estimates — made that plan unfeasible.

she and 10 colleagues from una-unso were detained and then released by police.

the rumble on the roof coincided with the arrival of kuchma, who threw a curveball by showing up two-and-a-half hours early. kuchma hastily honored shevchenko and departed.

police then opened the park to protesters, who carried out what the opposition a “symbolic cleaning of the monument from the president,” before staging a rally that would culminate in much more violence at the presidential administration leading to hundreds of arrests.

but that’s another story.

[march 2001]

peter byrne is а рассеянный journalist who spends his free time collecting ideas, running and learning new technologies.

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