Victor Fedorovich was born in an ugly village in the “industrialized” Donetsk region of the country. Industrialized by Soviet standards. “My childhood was difficult and hungry,” he said. “I grew up without my mother, who died when I was two. I went around barefooted in the streets. I had to fight for myself every day.”
Fight he did. In 1967 he was 17 when he was first found guilty of robbery and assault and sentenced to 2 years in prison. Released after eighteen months, he remained a fighter and in 1970 was imprisoned again for assault, this time for the full two years. Now Victor Fedorovich Yanukovich is the president of Ukraine. He is still hungry, though what he is fighting for is not clear.
His methods are old school and direct. He ordered armed military forces to clear the Maidan of peaceful protestors. Video exists of soldiers clubbing students who are unable to stand, beneath the reign of blows. You can hear the girls saying to the soldiers, “have you gone out of your mind?”
But while Yanukovich’s methods are direct, his explanations are anything but straightforward. The reason, his administration announced, for clearing the Maidan was to put up a large Christmas tree. Hearing which, any sensible person must wonder, have I gone out of my mind?
It was eerie to watch the tv coverage on channel five that night they used force to clear the square. It was dead afterward and a few municipal workers were sweeping up. I used to watch channel five all the time though now its direct broadcast site is mysteriously blocked at times.
That awful night a woman in yellow was speaking to the microphone. She was clearly very, very disturbed. She related the facts of the assault that she had witnessed? She called on protestors to show their injuries. She said she was ashamed to have left the Maidan.
She said the protestors were running to take shelter in St Michael’s monastery, where the monks were taking them in. She said she believed the government will not pursue them there because it was a sacred place. She said she wished she had not left the Maidan. She said she would have preferred to die there. This woman was Ruslana, whose songs have been top of the Europe charts for many weeks at a time, and who is one of the most famous people in Ukraine.
She was wearing yellow that night, and since then she has put everything she has behind the protest, using her twitter and Facebook pages to coordinate efforts to support the students and other young people occupying the public places of the city. The students slept in the monastery and people filled the large square in front of it. Ten thousand were there all night in St Michael’s Square. People bought food and not tea.
Members of parliament stated they would be there all night as well, and would not leave the students exposed. “We will stand with the people,” they said. The following day 700,000 to a million protestors filled the center of the city and marched into the Maidan where they disassembled the Christmas tree. The police who were supposed to guard the Maidan from the people simply didn’t try.
Some say the police are on the side of the protestors, complicating further action by the soldiers. The soldiers who assaulted the students were not from Kiev, but from the far east of the country, a very Russian region named Luhansk.
But that was just one of many story lines. In the city of Lviv, a city of a million, there is also a EuroMaidan. Lviv is one of the Europe-leaning cities of the west and north of Ukraine, as opposed to the Russian-leaning cities of the east and south, like Donetsk, where Yanukovich is from.
The mayor of Lviv announced that if anyone got it into their head to, “God forbid,” try to clear that Maidan, the entire city would rise against them. And convoys of cars began leaving Lviv for Kiev. Convoys of young men, going to the Kiev Maidan, with the stated purpose of fighting back if assaulted.
Yanukovich, meanwhile, said nothing about the Christmas tree being torn down. Instead, a group of protestors suspiciously commandeered a mysteriously handy bulldozer and attacked the barrier of riot police by the presidential administration. The Maidan protestors say these were unrelated protestors who were in fact paid agents provocateurs of the state.
The provocation was intended to allow the government to declare a state of emergency. But suddenly some of Yanukovich’s key allies in the government quit. His chief of staff quit and several members of his parliamentary party renounced their party affiliation and will vote with the opposition. Supposedly the defection from Yanukovich’s party is sufficient to sustain a no confidence vote on Tuesday that will end the government of Yanukovich ally, prime minister Mykola Azarov.
But Yanukovich is not alone. Putin remained stalwart in his condemnation of the protests in Kiev, calling them a pogrom, despite the fact that these events do not appear to be the large-scale massacre of the Jewish population. Perhaps he had an alternative definition of pogrom in mind. In any case, Putin has been successful in intimidating protestors and arresting their leadership in Russia in a silencing, terrifying way.
For Putin, the only thing worse than protests is of course gays. There will be neither at his Sochi Olympics. The presence of either would be a pogrom. Putin prides himself on many sports like wrestling and kickboxing and you can see videos of the bloody private kickboxing matches he hosts for his favorite ministers and the swollen faces of the contestants with whom he and his ministers pose afterward.
Vitali Volodymyrovich Klitschko is well-known in the boxing world. If I knew anything about boxing, I’d tell you how well known. He is also a member of parliament. He has been there with the protestors since the night in the monastery. He speaks slowly, clearly, and with an amazing authority. He is a very powerful, charismatic force with the power to inspire.
Klitschko says things simply and his explanations are utterly straightforward. “The government should not beat students,” he said. And “we will stay here until this government goes.” His father was a major general in the Soviet Airforce. Like the two other main opposition leaders, Tyahnybok and Yatseniuk, who are both sons of university professors, Klitschko comes from privilege. Maybe his hunger comes from someplace different from Yanukovich’s.
Wikipedia says Klitschko is known for his “powerful punches and durable chin.” But I think Klitschko confines his desire to pummel to the ring. Here now another thing is in play. Wikipedia notes also that Klitschko is an avid chess player. In chess the winner thinks far enough ahead to outwit his opponent, anticipating his moves. It’s that skill now of Klitschko’s being tested in Ukraine.