Ukrainian Dialogue Unsuccessful: Torture and Threats Ensue
Two have been confirmed dead, shot in the Ukrainian protests still raging in Kiev. The protests were sparked by anti-democratic legislation pushed through the Ukrainian Rada that removed core freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom to protest, and freedom of the press. Protestor violence and government backlash have led to a growing list of injuries on both sides, with the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, claiming that certain far right extremist groups amongst the protestors are attempting a coup d’etat, and placing the blame of the deaths on protestors he insists are unilaterally not peaceful.
The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, met with leaders of three political opposition groups, Svoboda, Batkivshchyna, and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance (or, UDAR) Thursday, the talks lasting over four hours, according to the official website of the president. The Minister of Justice, Olena Lukash, released a statement on Thursday with an update on the talks.
“Unfortunately, for the second time, leaders of the opposition refused to declare the statement condemning extremist actions. Also, they did not condemn seizure of local authorities’ premises,” said Lukash. She added that no solution was found during the talks as to whether or not the opposition would cease action. “The parties have discussed the issue of immediate vacation of illegally seized premises, possible amnesty and other issues that could be considered in the course of the special session the holding of which has been positively evaluated by the participants of the negotiations,” she said.
He spoke with displeasure on the meeting with President Yanukovych, saying that neither the president, government, or other within the current political regime are open to resignation, but that detained activists would be released and pressure let up on the condition that protests end. “They also tried to intimidate us,” he said, claiming threats were made.
“We will expand the borders of Maidan. I am sure that this year we will live in a free country without the dictatorship of Yanukovych,” said UDAR leader Vitali Klitschko — according to a UDAR release. “Maidan is a territory of freedom. We will expand its territory unless we are heard,” he said. He also insisted that an intermediary from the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe be present for any future mediation.
“The OSCE has the necessary tools and the mechanisms to act as an impartial broker in such situations, and it is ready to support the Ukrainian authorities in order to lower tensions and prevent further escalation,” said OSCE Chair-in-Office, Didier Burkhalter, according to a press release.
President Yanukovych also spoke with Jose Manuel Barroso – President of the European Commission — and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday via phone. According to release from the European Commissions, Barroso spoke of concerns for missing persons, emphasizing that violence against journalists and in the streets is not the solution. He encouraged communication between the government and opposition, saying that the EU would gladly assist with de-escalating dialogue and discussion, and noted that the EU’s relationship with Ukraine would be dependent on the stability within the nation. In turn, Yanukovych agreed on the need for dialogue and said that for now Ukraine would not be declaring a state of emergency.
Vice President Biden re-emphasized the importance of freedom of assembly and expression, condemning the present violence and noting that “further bloodshed would have consequences for Ukraine’s relationship with the United States.”
The Ukrainian president also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the phone. She told the president that the German government is “extremely concerned, and not only concerned but also dismayed” at the legislative limitations on rights recently passed, according to the German Federal Government release on the call. She said that sanctions “are not what is called for at this time,” but stressed that violence must be stopped and Germany must push for “a reasonable legal environment in place in Ukraine,” adding that, “A wide variety of contacts exist to opposition forces.”
A BBC reporter, Duncan Crawford, shared one ghastly annecdote of police violence when he spoke with a Ukrainian student, Mikhail Nizkoguz, who bore numerous injuries visible during the interview. “The allegations made by a 17-year-old student, Mikhail Nizkoguz, are extremely serious. He says he was tortured for hours. He claims riot police arrested him and beat him with batons; that he was forced to strip naked in the freezing cold and sing the national anthem; that they then cut him with knives,” said Crawford, according to BBC.
“He was eventually taken to hospital. His face and body are covered in cuts and bruises. He has a deep gash across his forehead, his arm is broken and bandaged. The police have accused him of firing fireworks at them — something he denies.” Names for two of the confirmed shooting deaths were released; Serhiy Nihoyan and Mikhail Zhyznewski were both protestors on the scene in Kiev who were killed.