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Back to the Middle Ages on the way to Europe: Beaten Kyiv protesters take refuge in ancient church yard

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Nov. 30, 2013, 9:38 p.m. | Kyiv — by Daryna Shevchenko

Beaten Kyiv protesters take refuge in ancient church yard.
© Anastasia Vlasova

Daryna Shevchenko

 The bells ring.

 “It’s 10,” someone says.

They gather in a circle and start singing the Ukrainian national anthem on St. Michael’s Square, on the site of the holy cathedral originally built in 1108 and then rebuilt after Soviets destroyed it.

These are mostly young people, many with blue-and-yellow ribbons attached to their dirty clothes. Some have bandages on their heads and hands; others limp.

They sing the anthem every hour, it’s been a tradition at EuroMaidan almost since the start of the pro-European integration demonstrations on Nov. 21.

 And even though there is now no EuroMaidan – or at least it has changed locations -- they still sing the anthem, only now in St. Michael’s Cathedral. The only safe place they could find in Ukraine’s capital early in the morning.

Police violently broke up the EuroMaidan rally at 4 a.m. on Nov. 30.

More than 700 people were staying overnight at Kyiv’s main square Maidan Nezalezhnosti, mostly students, guarding the epicenter for street protests that started in Ukraine on Nov. 21 in opposition to the government's decision to suspend Ukraine’s European Union integration.

Pavlo Shchebrya, one of the overnight protesters, writes a statement together with his friends. (Anastasia Vlasova)

Many protesters got serious injuries: broken hands and legs, concussions and wounds. Some people went missing.

“And there were more than 4,000 riot police officers,” says Oleksandr Ananich, a 17-year-old student from Lviv.

He volunteered to be a guard at the EuroMaidan rally. And he was a guard, before getting beaten by police. “We were standing there as close to the monument as possible, holding hands and they were dragging us out, throwing on that window under the monument and beating. All of us. Grannies, girls, guys...all,” he says repeating the story again and again to all who come.

 He stands in a corner of St. Michael’s Cathedral yard, drinking tea and eating a simple sandwich - bread and sausage. His hand is trembling.

People gather at the entrance to St. Miachel's cathedral. (Anastasia Vlasova)

“Running away we ran up from Kreshchatyk Square, trying to stay away from the big streets. People were saying that the police are chasing us to beat us to death or whatever, later we got back to St. Michael’s Square and met another group. There were 70 of us and we thought we need a big place to hide,” says Ihor Zelenyi, another overnight EuroMaidan protester. “We knocked on the cathedral's gate and they let us in, then we started calling politicians and journalists.”

There are 14 people registered in Kyiv hospital #17, 13 of them received medical help, the 14th was hospitalized with concussion, says Oleksandra Kuzhil, a member of parliament. But this is not official information, she says.

Kuzhil wears a warm hat and what looks like an old coat and constantly answers the questions and gives people the phone numbers of hospitals so they could check on their friends and relatives, that they can’t contact.

“The mobile connection was suppressed at Maidan, you know that right, so your friends might be around here, just with dead phones, calm down,” she says to a group of young people who just ran into the St. Michael’s Cathedral yard. “And please go warm up inside the church.”

There are several dozen people inside the main church building. Two young man and a woman stand on their knees and pray. A woman cries. Some light up the candles. The others stand in the corners and discuss the events. A priest comes to a group who got too loud. “Please be quiet in the church,” he says. “You can be here for as long as needed, but please behave.”

Protesters and their supporters eat food, brought by Kyivans to the spot. (Anastasia Vlasova)

A young woman comes in the church and whispers that more food came.

People arrive to St. Michael’s Cathedral all the time, bring food and warm clothes. “I made pancakes, were do I put them? They are still hot! Get them, kids,” says a middle-aged woman in a fur coat and a yellow hat. “I woke up in the morning and just couldn’t believe, just couldn’t,” she says and starts crying. “How did they dare to do that to our children,” she says, getting angry. Her name is Valentyna Bilan. She’s been spending every night at EuroMaidan starting Nov. 24.

By noon people no longer fit the yard. Several hundred gather outside. The activists get a loudspeaker and call on people to come out.  The cathedral's yard is getting overwhelmed with journalists, mostly foreign though. Almost no Ukrainian TV channels are on the scene.

“Now I am ready for everything,” says Pavlo Shchebrya from Kyiv to journalists who gathered around him in a circle. His head is still bleeding through the bandage. “Even for a weapon fight,” he adds.

And he is not the only one.

 By 1 p.m., there are several thousand at St. Michael’s Square.

"We won’t forgive them what happened tonight. Never,” says Liudmyla Sivukhina.  She wears high heels, a purple fur coat, heavy makeup and big anger.

“Kyiv, wake up! Ukraine, Wake up,” she starts shouting together with the crowd and runs up closer to the improvised stage.

The echo at the square picks up the sound, the cars passing by beep in support, some stop and the drivers join the rally. “Ukraine, wake up!” people shout.

And Ukraine did.

As of 8 p.m., the rally at St. Michael’s Cathedral was not winding out. There are more than 10,000 people by unofficial estimates. And they keep coming and going.

Kyiv Post staff writer Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at Shevchenko@kyivpost.com

 

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