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Opposition under fire for failure to protect protesters

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Leaders of the three parliament opposition parties - Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatseniuk and Oleh Tiahnybok (from left) - talk to people from a stage of EuroMaidan rally that was later brutally broken up by the police.
© Pavlo Podufalov

Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller is an American editor at the Kyiv Post. He is also a regular contributor to Mashable, and has written for GlobalPost, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent and others. A former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer (Artemivsk, Donetsk Oblast, 2010-2012), he can be reached at millerjchristopher@gmail.com.

Olga Rudenko

Standing in the yard of St. Michael's monastery, Igor Mitrov, a 22-year-old Kyiv student talks about how he was betrayed and who betrayed him. He was in the crowd of hundreds of people which was broken up violently by the police in the early hours of Nov. 30.

Mitrov says he was betrayed by police officers who beat him on the head on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. But on the other hand, he was betrayed by the opposition politicians who failed to warn and protect him, and then regroup and formulate a simple, clear and coherent plan.

“They abandoned us,” he complains. 

Other protesters who spoke to the Kyiv Post said the political opposition removed its sound equipment just hours before the police attacked the crowd, suggesting that they knew what was coming, got their people out of harm's way and left everyone else at the mercy of the police.

“The organizers knew for sure,” said Oleksandr Ananich, 17-year-old student from Lviv. “There were rumors that the camp may be dispersed. But we were hearing these rumors every evening, so we just didn’t take them into account.” 

Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister and one of the opposition leaders, says one of the problems with the opposition is that it has too many leaders.

"The key difference between this and 2004 is that then there was a single candidate. So now candidates (UDAR party leader Vitali Klitschko, Batkivschyna leader Yuriy Yatseniuk and Svoboda leader Oleh Tianhybok) have to decide who of them will become president, prime minister and the head of parliament,” he told the Kyiv Post. 

But leaders of the opposition are not accepting responsibility for what went wrong. They say that, when two protesting crowds united last week -- moving one off European Square to join the other on Independence Square -- political party symbols were removed.  They say they also lost control of the rallies to civic organizers.

Yatseniuk told a conference in Vilnius on Nov. 29 that removal of politicians is “a technology which was used in Russia and Belarus.” He said the next step was to remove opposition leaders from actively participating in the nation's politics.

Tiahnybok, whose members were involved in several scuffles with the police in previous days, complained that the protesters at Independence Square rally turned down their help. “Political forces were not involving into activity of tent camp after the public asked them about this,” he said. 

Yatseniuk, claimed he personally did “all he could.” 

The three top opposition leaders say the only people to blame are those who control the police and, ultimately, President Viktor Yanukovych.

“It is the direct task of law enforcement bodies to protect people, but unfortunately they are doing the opposite things,” said Klitschko.

At a joint press conference in the middle of the day, they planned to visit activists on Mykhailvska Square after meeting with foreign ambassadors. 

Yatseniuk released a plan of action devised by the opposition. He said the opposition is calling on everyone to come to Shevchenko Park at noon on Dec. 1. Currently, people are gathering on St. Michael's Square, however. The next day, on Dec. 2, the opposition in parliament will hear a report of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko and demand his resignation. 

At the same time, it will form a general headquarters for a national strike and will conduct additional preparation to ensure that Dec. 15 by-elections to parliament in five constituencies are conducted fairly.

In the meantime, Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister, says he knows who is guilty of violence against protesters on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. 

But the opposition's plan is already being criticized for lack of logic and coherence. 

“This watery (plan) is made out of 10 points – walk around squares, go to a council in parliament, demand the minister's report, conduct an election on Dec. 15 and then wait for another one in 2015,” says Ivanna Kobernik, a journalist and activist.

Even ex-Regions Party member Inna Bohoslovska "has a better plan: create a new majority in parliament and persuade the Regions members who do not want to flee this country with their families,” Kobernik said. Bohoslovska, one of the key spokespeople for the Party of Regions, quit her faction and party in protest against police violence and posted her own suggestions for a plan in her blog. 

While some protesters tried to figure out a plan, Lutsenko says he learned who is guilty of giving unlawful orders to the police to attack peaceful demonstrators. He accused Kyiv police chief Valeriy Koryak and head of Berkut in Kyiv, a Colonel Kosiuk. Koryak acknowledged at a briefing that police used excessive force, and said he was ready to resign if the interior minister or the general prosecutor decide he was responsible. 

He also said a probe was started following police violence. Lutsenko, however, said there was more than one attack at night, and those two gave orders for the primary one that got little coverage. 

"But it was the first attack that was done by the Kyiv Berkut (special riot police) that happened around midnight or 1am, but it was rather calm. My glasses were broken, and my son was hurt a little. But for the second attack at 4 a.m. Berkut was from Dnipropetrovsk and Luhansk. Dnipropetrovsk Berkut was always been formed with anti-riot action in mind. They are absolutely brainless, to be honest. And yesterday they got an order to do whatever they wanted. I can't tell now who gave that order (for second attack),"Lutsenko said. 

He said that the only way to go now for the protesters was continue to strike. "The only way now is for nation to go on strike, to block the whole of Kyiv. Of course we don't have a legal way for (President Viktor) Yanukovych to go, no law about impeachment. There is no legal way, but there must be a political decision,” he said. 

Lutsenko believes that if the crowd continues to block Kyiv for a week, there will be a political decision to adopt an impeachment law in parliament with the help of the Party of Regions, which is in disarray. 

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