"Choke on your Christmas Tree" says the little girl's poster. Her slogan is a reference to the official police excuse for violently breaking up a crowd of several hundred protester in the early hours of Nov. 30. The police said they were preventing the municipal authorities from erecting a giant Christmas tree on the central square.
Kyiv police forcefully broke up a large gathering of protesters in Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), beating demonstrators with truncheons, according to eyewitnesses and news agencies. There are reports of numerous injuries and detainees. The Associated Press said that police moved in shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday, swinging clubs and using tear gas, according to a protest organizer, Sergei Milnichenko.
At that time, several hundred protesters remained, the news agency reported, down from the 10,000 people who gathered on Nov. 29 to call for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of his refusal to sign a long-anticipated association agreement with the European Union.
Police spokeswoman Olha Bilyk justified the police raid to the Kyiv Post by saying that protesters were interfering with preparations to decorate the square for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. She said demonstrators blocked transport vehicles and city workers appealed to police for help. The spokeswoman said that protesters started throwing stones and burning logs, prompting riot police to be called in. Some 35 people were detained, but will be released after reports are filed, she said.
However, many demonstrators at the scene said the police violence was unjustified.
"First, workers in cars came to say they would wash the monument," said Ilya Nemishaev of Simferopol. "We were trying to make them leave. We were standing in front of their cars, asking them to leave. While we were standing, riot police came - it looked like 2,000 or 3,000 of them. We were standing around the monuments, holding hands. They came closer and started beating us on our legs and then dragging us out from the circle. I covered my head, but then they hit my legs. They were beating even girls, knocking them down to the ground."
Chief doctor of emergencies of Kyiv Anatoliy Vershygora said that 35 people were admitted for emergency help as a result of the attack.
The incident is the most blatant and massive case of non-lethal police brutality in Ukraine in recent memory.
"Police have never attacked peaceful demonstrators at such large scale with so many people hospitalized," human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov said. "There were fights between protesters in 2001, during the Ukraine Without (ex-President Leonid) Kuchma protests, but not one-sided attacks like this morning on such a big scale."
Ukrainska Pravda reported a similar scene, citing member of parliament Andriy Shevchenko and other public officials. Numerous Twitter reports using the #euromaidan and #євромайдан hash tags.
Pravda quoted Shevchenko as saying that dozens of people were injured and that there were dozens of detaines. "This Ukraine has never seen," Ukrainska Pravda wrote, citing Shevchenko's Twitter feed. Pravda said that Shevchenko and other politicians would remain on the scene.
The news site also cited one activist who said that more than 2,000 armed commandos took action against several hundred peaceful demonstrators and that people were beaten indiscriminately.
Channel 5 also reported similar events and this morning broadcast interviews with people who said that police beat everyone in site, including women and passersby, "They beat everyone, it was simply terrible," one eyewitness said on Channel 5. "I am shocked."
They also broadcast live footage throughout the morning of police who remained on the scene as well as city workers cleaning up the debris.
The crackdown came a day after U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt warned about serious consequences if force was used against the participants in the rally in support for Ukraine's European integration.
Speaking on the Voice of America radio, Pyatt said freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental principles and a top priority for the United States. The Ukrainian authorities have been notified about the US position both publicly and in personal meetings that demonstrations that have been held this week are a positive fact showing the strength of democracy in Ukraine, which needs to be respected, Pyatt said.
The diplomat also strongly condemned attacks on journalists, including those that took place in Kyiv on Nov. 29.
In the meantime, people started gathering on St. Michael's Square in Kyiv for new demonstrations. "Thousands on Mykhailivska Ploshcha. Every car passing honks in support. Inspiring!" Roman Tatarsky, a Kyiv-based businessman reported on his Facebook page.
By mid-afternoon, some 4,000 people had gathered on St. Michael's Square for a new rally. The police followed them. Some angry demonstrators pounded on police vans, but there were no reports of violence or clashes. Opposition politicians arrived for the rally. Passing drivers honked their horns. Up to 10 foreign ambassadors also showed up in solidarity. Doctors were on hand to tell people what to do if they are sprayed with tear gas.