Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eyewitness To The Kharkiv Demonstrations: Going Against The Putin Machine

By Paul Gregory (Hoover Institution and University of Houston)
Eyewitness Account of the events on April 6 in Kharkiv, Ukraine supplied to me by a colleague who vouches for the veracity of the writer.
On the morning of April I went to Piatikhatki [on the outskirts of Kharkiv] to participate in a forest cross-country race. Then, though a little late, I went to the Euromaidan concert at the Shevchenko monument.
During the concert a crowd of people wearing St. George ribbons and carrying Russian flags arrived. I cannot estimate how many of them there were as they were standing behind a cordon of militiamen.  There were shouts and  name calling between the two groups, but we did not see more than the usual aggression from the other side, although some  of them managed to infiltrate our side and talk to us.
At that moment people on the stage began squabbling. One guy, probably a leader of the self–defense group (pro-Maidan) said we should go home because the situation had become dangerous. Others insisted we should stay. Most decided to stay; it seemed the right thing to do. Why would we be afraid to stay at a peaceful concert? Why should we be scared of a bunch of bandits? Let the militia arrest them if they make a row. Will they frighten us so much that we cannot go downtown? If we stay home, they will come and shoot us one by one. I thus bear a share of the responsibility for what happened later. I was all for staying there, and so I spoke out, along with others. According to that logic, I finally got inside this threshing machine. It would be unfair if somebody else were in my place, as I cast my vote to stay.
The concert went on. When it was over, people began leaving. We helped pack the equipment and began moving along Sumskaia Street [main street in downtown Kharkiv] in the direction of Sovetskaia Square on the right side of the street. Along with others I was at the end to see that no one got left behind and into trouble. We were surrounded by militiamen; to the left of them were anti-Maidanists (I assume there were several thousand of them).  They became much more aggressive, trying many times to start fights. They threatened to smash us; they took pictures of us with their phones.
At one point we were unable to move forward; people said that Sumskaia Street was blocked, although I do not know what actually happened there. Probably most of the pro-Maidan people moved forward (thank God!); several dozens of us stayed behind, cut off by rows of militiamen and anti-Maidanists. At this point the situation worsened; we were surrounded by a huge crowd of aggressive anti-Maidanists and could not make a move.
There were militiamen but not enough to protect us. We could not go anywhere; we had anti-Maidanists on every side, and they would not let us go. The crowd surrounding us was shouting: “We will kill you, m-f-ers.” (I will not quote the other insults here.) They threw themselves on the militiamen, hoping to break through the cordon. At several points they succeeded and began beating us. We could not struggle against such a crowd; all we could do was protect our heads, try not to fall down, and, most important, prevent them from taking me or my comrades into their crowd (from which no one would have escaped alive).  Anti-Maidanists dragged me by my hair; during those seconds I said to myself, “you should have cut your hair, idiot.” They kicked heads with their feet. Sometimes I managed to stay standing; sometimes they knocked me down to the road. I protected my head with my hands, fending off the blows somewhat.
At moments the militia cordon stood steady, without gaps in the cordon. But then the anti-Maidanist began spitting on us and throwing stones, some of which reached us. (Fortunately, in this area of Kharkiv, they could not find many stones.) They also threw explosives and petards in our direction. All this was accompanied by their screaming, “Russia, Russia!”  Now we could understand the real meaning of a “Russian-style Kharkov.” I wish people in Russia could understand this too.
In the meantime militiamen tried hard to contain the crowd and slowly move us to their van [avtozak-transportation van for prisoners]. Unfortunately, they had not nearly enough personnel. One might question the professionalism and adequacy of the militia’s actions. I believe that the number of militiamen should have been doubled or tripled; then they could have protected us from being slaughtered. Having such small numbers they were barely able contain the crowd (sometimes they could not even do that). A small number of militiamen acted in the only possible way. If anybody is responsible for what happened, it was their superiors, who should have sent more people but did not.
When we were close to the van, the attacks from the gangs became worse. They sprayed something from a small container on us that made it difficult to breath and made our eyes water. At that moment I became frightened because the corridor to the van was too narrow; they could reach me from any side and drag me into the crowd, and I would be unable to see them because of my watery eyes. The same would happen if they beat me. When I could see those beating me, I could somehow protect my head with my hands but not at that moment. I actually missed a strong blow, which I could not see (I still do not know whether it was done with a foot or a fist).  I saw stars; I did not fall down (I could not afford that). We continued moving toward the militia van. Finally we dived into it, which was the end of the first part of our adventure. There were about fifteen people in the van. The doors were locked, but the van could only move about a foot and a half a minute because of the crowd surrounding it. It was stuffy in the bus, and some people did not feel well. None of us had water.
The attempt to drive away lasted about half an hour; nobody could tell what was going on. Then the driver said that one tire seemed to be flat, and it became clear that they would be unable to get us out. Here began the second part of our adventure.
Militiamen opened the door of the van and demanded we get out.  Those who left the van were ordered to kneel and move ahead on their knees. We all asked ourselves whether or not to follow the order. If you think it is an easy choice, it’s not. The crowd wanted our blood or at least to see us humiliated.  As a result, everybody, myself included, moved ahead on our knees or squatting; only one guy tried to walk. My thoughts were as follows: I am standing on the railroad tracks with an unguided train approaching me at high speed. It would be viewed as shameful to jump away, but I would do so.  I felt in a similar situation. You could stand, but this crazy crowd would break through the thin layer of militiamen and crush us all. Thus, moving ahead on my knees, I did not feel ashamed; I was simply annoyed by this “unguided train” in our city. The guy who tried to walk probably increased the aggressiveness of the crowd by a third. But that was the choice he made.
We had been moving in that physically grueling mode for about thirty minutes. One of us had a concussion; he received his share of kicks, as did we all. Again, there were not enough militiamen, though they contained the elements the best they could. They also yelled “kneel, idiot!” probably following my course of thought. The best decision would have been to arrest the mob, because they clearly were the instigators. But in such small numbers they COULD NOT.
At that point I was not paying much attention to anti-Maidanist words. But when somebody yelled at me “Go to your L’vov, Zhidomason [kike and mason]!” I felt I had to answer that I was from Kharkov. I did not get serious blows, just a good one  in the back of the head with God knows what.
In such manner we reached the second van and were driven to Dzerzhinskoe ROVD [Militia Department of Dzerzhinskii raion], where everything was quiet and they kept a civil tongue. But that is another story.
All in all I was lucky. Although they hit me mostly on the head, I seem to have avoided a concussion or broken nose. Teeth and eyes are in place, just many bruises, bumps, and scratches on the head but in general no serious problems, except being uncomfortable about going out.

Many thanks to everybody who responded and helped!
Truth and reason will win!

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