Ukraine Erupts in Protests over Stricter Demonstration Laws

Kiev, Ukraine's capitol, has been the sight of protests since the government turned down a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) for one with Russia. Everything got worse when President Viktor Yanukovych signed a new anti-protest bill on January 15 and rallies erupted in Kiev on January 19.

A large rally in Kiev, Ukraine, that was called in part to protest a new set of laws cracking down on public protests turned violent on Sunday when men in balaclavas attacked the police with sticks and threw firecrackers and cobblestones at them.

The police responded with tear gas. By early evening, at least one police van was burning on a central street in the city, and witnesses said people had been injured, though it was unclear how severely.

Opposition leaders denounced the ones who caused the violence, but they could not stop them. Boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko pleaded for peace but nothing worked. As the night went on the protesters became more violent.

By midnight, the streets were a scene of utter mayhem. Those fighting the police struck them with lengths of pipes and sticks, and hurled cobblestones the size of soccer balls into their midst. They sent fireworks whistling and sparking into their ranks, and threw what appeared to be firebombs, blossoming into flames when they struck. The police stumbled backward, patting at their clothes as fire burned their metal shields.

The riot police sprayed from a water cannon, in spite of the freezing temperatures. Gazeta.ru, a Russian news portal, reported that 70 police officers were wounded and 40 hospitalized.

The government is also going after the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) since they back the protesters. The church set up tents where people can pray, confess, or baptize their child. On December 11, when there was a risk of a violent protest, a priest took the stage and led the protesters in a morning prayer. The police withdrew and no violence occurred. 

Culture Minister Leonid Novokhatko cited Article 21, which states all religious services must be performed in a church. After this backlash on Saturday, Yanukovich released a statement and said the laws need to be changed to where a person may pray where they want.


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