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Victims describe excessive, indiscriminate attacks (UPDATES)

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Nov. 30, 2013, 1:09 p.m. | Ukraine abroad — by Daryna Shevchenko, Oksana Grytsenko

A screen shot of video showing police beating unarmed demonstrators as part of a 4 a.m. raid to clear Independence Square of EuroMaidan protesters. Demonstrations have been held daily since Nov. 21 to protest the government's decision to abandon closer relations with the European Union.
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Daryna Shevchenko

Just being anywhere near Independence Square in Kyiv overnight proved to be dangerous -- even for those who did not participate in the ongoing EuroMaidan demonstrations. Police officers seemed intent on roughing up everybody in sight.

Polish businessman Yatsyk Zabrovsky was one of them.

He said police beat him on the head on Khreshchatyk Street as he walked home from a late dinner with a friend. "I was shouting I was Polish. I had a Polish scarf on, but they shouted 'foreigner' and kept beating me," Zabrovsky said. "Some Ukrainian guy dragged me to the ambulance nearby, then wiped off the blood from my face. I went to the embassy and spoke to all the biggest Polish TV channels."

Other witnesses to the police brutality in breaking up the protest site on Kyiv's Independence Square today say officers used indiscriminate, excessive and unjustified force -- even chasing down fleeing demonstrators to assault them.

A few hundred people remained at Maidan overnight. Around 3.30 a.m., riot-control police officers started attacking people without any explanation, according to Daryna Pivtorak, sa tudent from Ostroh Academy who came to Kyiv from Vinnytsia Oblast. "The first scene I saw was Berkut police officer beating a young man with a baton, trussing his hands and dragging him out of the place he was standing. They were beating people indiscriminately - old and young people, men and women, they were indifferent."

Police say the riot police were called in because demonstrators blocked city vehicles from preparing Independence Square for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Two eyewitnesses told the Kyiv Post that the police assault began at about 4 a.m. and lasted no more than 15 minutes. At the time, they said, about 1,000 protesters were confronted by at least 500 riot control police.

"They came and said that our actions illegal and we must empty the territory. And then they attacked us," said Viktor, a 19-year-old student, who came to the Kyiv protests from an eastern Ukrainian city on Nov. 22. He did not want his full name published because of fear of retribution from administrators at his university.

"They were very brutal. These steps, they were all covered in blood," Viktor said, showing steps by the monument at Independent Square. "One woman turned to us, we were pulling her from there, and OMON (police unit) was beating her."

Sergiy, 37, a real estate agent from Kyiv who didn't give his name because he fears police retaliation, said that workers brought in this year’s Christmas tree – a centerpiece of the main square – and began installing it 30 minutes before the police assault.

Police drove people down the streets, beating them back.

"I saw that at Prorizna Street the police were beating a guy. He fell down at a crossroad and the policemen were still beating him," said Sergiy.

Some 50 people, including casualties of the police beatings, are at the Mykhailovsky monastery.

One of the victims is Igor Mitrov, 22, a Kyiv student with a bandage on his head. He was holding a bloodstained Ukrainian flag.

"We are trying to recover after that horrible night when they were beating everyone," Mitrov said. "I just can't believe it happened."

Yaroslava Fedorash, a Lviv student, 20, was lucky to be in a cafe when the violent police raid started. When she got on the scene, police were beating and pushing people.

"They circled us and pushed us to the ground. We were singing the Ukrainian anthem. I saw a girl who's hand was broken by police. Then (popular singer) Ruslana arrived and she advised us to go to the monastery."

A group of 50 people -- which would later in the day grow to 500 people -- gathered in the corner of the monastery yard and sang the national anthem on the hour.

Ihor Zelenyi of Vinnytsia said some demonstrators tried to return to Independence Square after the initial police raid, but police were "chasing us to Bessarabska Square and beating us. We were running around downtown, the small streets. Later we came out to Mykhailivska Square and met another group there. We wanted to go home, but decided to stay and tell the world what happened to us. We came to the monastery and they let us stay."

Pavlo Shchybrya from Kyiv, whose head was still bleeding from the assault earlier in the day, said he stayed overnight for the first time today.

"Lucky I was," Shchybrya said. "I was in the first row. They dragged me out and beat my head. I went to the hospital because it was bleeding and then to the monastery. Now I am ready for everything. Even to fight with weapons."

Some people at St. Michael's monastery blamed opposition politicians and EuroMaidan organizers for not providing better security. They noted that the sound systems were shut down early and no members of parliament were on the scene.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at grytsenko@kyivpost.com and Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at shevchenko@kyivpost.com. Staff writer Anastasia Forina contributed to this story.

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