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Police 'were like a machine cleaning the street,' says beating victim

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Nov. 30, 2013, 8:56 a.m. | Ukraine — by Brian Bonner

A video taken from a phone by Johannes Wamberg Andersen, a freelance Danish journalist living in Kyiv, shows police officers kicking two men in the head on Khreshchatyk Street early this morning.
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Brian Bonner

Brian Bonner has served as the chief editor of the Kyiv Post since 2008. He also held the job in 1999, three years after first arriving in Ukraine to teach journalism. Bonner is a veteran American journalist who spent most of his professional life with the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, where he covered international, national and local news during a nearly 24-year career in which he was a staff writer and an assigning editor. For American newspapers, he has reported from abroad in Russia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos. Bonner left the St. Paul newspaper in 2007 to become the associate director of international communications at the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C. He also worked as a member of the core teams with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during six election observation missions in Ukraine, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. To contact: email bribonner@gmail.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/brianbonner, Twitter @BSBonner, Skype at brian.bonner1959.

Johannes Wamberg Andersen was out late in Kyiv's center when, close to 5 a.m. today, some of his friends told him that police were raiding Maidan Nezalezhnosti and attacking protesters.

“I came after the purge,” Andersen, the Danish freelance journalist said. “My report is not the most interesting.”

 But his early morning stroll was plenty interesting enough – his four-minute video caught police kicking men in the head. The victims were crouched on the sidewalk, unarmed and trying to shield their heads from the blows. They appeared to pose no threat to the officers.

Then police officers who noticed that Andersen was filming the brutality started beating him. At least two officers took part in the assault on him.

 “They beat me in the head and made several attempts at trying to grab my phone out of my hand,” Andersen said. “I clinged to it for life. Then I screamed for life. Somebody could have heard me five kilometers away. They eventually let me go away.”

The attack didn't leave him with obvious bruises or serious injuries and, since police administered the beating, he saw no point in reporting the assault on him.

An injured man, one of several reported victims of police brutality in Kyiv today as officers raided Independence Square by force and dispersed protesters. Pro-European demonstrations have been going on in Kyiv since Nov. 21, to protest President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to scrap plans for closer ties with the European Union.

Andersen can only imagine what transpired during the purge. He said that police attacking people indiscriminately as they fanned out from Independence Square to a wider area on the main Khreshchatyk Street.

“The video was shot as they were widening out their sweep; they were like a machine cleaning the street. They were just mopping up the streets indiscriminately,” Andersen said.

Johannes Wamberg Andersen (file photo)

No professional police practices were in evidence, he said.

 “The critical point is there was no warning,” Andersen said. “I was on the edge of their operational line. They might feel they had a legitimate reason to cordon off certain areas, but if they do that they should make people aware. What they did to me is push me off. I asked what’s the problem. They pushed me off and said go over to the other side of the street. After that, when you have complied with orders, you think you are safe.

“If you are professional police force, you have to assess when you look at a person – is he part of the problem or is he not part of the problem? it’s like an army force, you deal with hostile forces, don’t deal with civilians.”

 In Kyiv early this morning, the police were dealing with the civilians – brutally.

Andersen couldn't resist some ironic comments posted with his video on Facebook:

"Say hello to Euro-integration, Yanukovych-style. After the clip ended I screamed the full strength of my voice and tried to appeal to the police in English as the they tried to take my phone from me. I tooke some straight hits to my head because i wouldn't let them take my phone. Several policemen tried to wrest it out of my hand, but I resisted. I managed to cling on to it while I took some beats from them and got ahead of their line. There is a myth that police in Western countries is much harder on demonstrators than in Ukraine. That is not true. This all happened AFTER I complied with the police instructions and stepped back beyond the line they themselves defined for me. Apparently they didn't like that I filmed how they kicked somebody with their feet on the pavement."

Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner can be reached at bribonner@gmail.com

 

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