Ukraine’s point of no return

The Euromaidan activists continue to protest throughout Ukraine, despite considerable pressure from the authorities. A young journalist was recently beaten within an inch of her life, cars are set alight and there have been many other acts of provocation. But the protesters are resolved not to yield, reports Iryna Solomko

Over the last few days, Kyiv's Boris Clinic has become a place of pilgrimage for journalists, politicians and diplomats.  In one of the wards lies Tetiana Chernovol, an investigative journalist and Euromaidan activist, hospitalised after a brutal beating.  She had her first operation (there will be more to come) on 28 December.  Her attackers hit her on the head and in the face, so she has very serious concussion and brain swelling. Doctors are concerned about the state of her facial bone and her nose, which is broken in five places. The clots have been removed from her lungs and her condition has slightly improved, but she is unable to get up and has to drink through a tube. She is being fed glucose intravenously.

The vicious beating has shocked the whole of Ukraine, although, after the dispersal of the students from Euromaidan, it would seem that nothing could ever shock the country again.

The vicious beating has shocked the whole of Ukraine, although, after the dispersal of the students from Euromaidan, it would seem that nothing could ever shock the country again.

The incident

The beating happened on the night of 24/25 December.  The attackers came after her on the motorway between Kiev and Borispol.  She managed to get away from them more than once, but her Chevrolet Aveo could not contend with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo driven by her attackers, so they caught up with her and rammed her car. They then pulled her out and beat her up.


Tetiana Chernovol, an investigative journalist and Euromaidan activist, was brutally beaten up on the night of 24/25 December. The beating has sent shock waves throughout Ukraine. Photo: Iryna Solomko

She was found by the road police (GAI).  A dashboard camera in her car had captured the number and make of the attackers' car, and the faces of two of them.  Tetiana's father took the camera and handed it over to the opposition.  Subsequently the opposition members of parliament took it to the police.

There are currently two versions of reasons for the beating.  The 'ordinary' version gives the reason as road rage – there was a disagreement on the road and Tetiana was beaten up by 'golden youth' i.e. rich kids in a fast car. According to the second, political, version, it was to do with settling scores within the government and was aimed at shafting the Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko.

The ruling party (Party of Regions) immediately disclaimed any knowledge of the attack on the journalist, insisting that proper investigation would be needed before any conclusions could be reached. The Interior Ministry reacted amazingly swiftly: on Friday 27 December, just three days after the incident, the Head of the Investigations Department (Interior Ministry), Mykola Chynchyn, announced that five suspects had been arrested, including the organisers of the attack and the attackers themselves.  But who was behind the attack remains unknown.

Unpleasant surprises

There was a new and unexpected twist after the arrests: Chynchyn announced that he was summoning opposition deputies [members of parliament] for questioning. His investigations had uncovered numerous contacts between the detained and members of Vitaliy Klitschko's UDAR [Rn. Strike] party, Yevheniy Oharkov, Dmytro Kreynin and Ihor Opadchy. The Interior Ministry list also contains the name of one more opposition figure, the Batkivschyna [Fatherland party] deputy Volodymyr Polochaninov. 

But that was not the Interior Ministry’s only surprise.  Chynchyn revealed that one of those arrested, Oleksandr Kotenko, was a member of the Borys Savlokhov armed gang, which itself had been part of the organised crime syndicate run by mafia boss Viktor ‘The Fish’ Rybalko, who was murdered in 2005.  According to Chynchyn, the Klitschko brothers [heavyweight boxers Vitaliy and Volodymyr] had a close working relationship with him.

This is not the first time that the media have circulated the titbit about the Klitschko brothers and ‘The Fish’ having known each other;  it, together with accusations of tax paid in Germany, rather than Ukraine, is a very weak spot in the armour of presidential candidate Vitaliy Klitschko. However, there has as yet been no official confirmation of these controversial accusations, which is why the Interior Ministry statement had the effect of an exploding bomb.

Reactions

Vitaliy Klitschko himself has made threatening comments to the effect that the Chynchyn accusations are unsubstantiated, and that he is intending to go to court in defence of his honour, dignity and business reputation.  He said: ‘Instead of carrying out an objective investigation and finding the real perpetrators and 'clients' i.e. who gave the order, Zakharchenko's Interior Ministry is engaging in acts of provocation, effectively covering up for the criminals.'

Political analyst Taras Berezovets views the accusations against Klitschko as a smear aimed at harming the popularity of the politician who is the current head of state's strongest rival in the presidential election: 'This was a contract job, and the government decided to exploit the situation and to get Klitschko mixed up in it too.'

Instead of carrying out an objective investigation and finding the real perpetrators and 'clients', the Interior Ministry is engaging in acts of provocation, effectively covering up for the criminals.

Pavel Petrenko is a parliamentary deputy for the Batkivschyna party and a close colleague of Arseniy Yatsenyuk.  He considers the Interior Ministry announcements proof that they are doing all they can to get the opposition deputies involved in the case of the Chernovol beating. He describes it as a 'commonplace political order from above.'


The Head of the Investigations Department, Mykola Chynchyn, is investigating the involvement of opposition group members in the Chernovol incident. This is not the first time the government has connected opposition figures with attacks on Euromaidan activists. Photo: Iryna Solomko

This is not the first time the government has tried to present attacks on Euromaidan activists, which have become much more frequent recently, as acts of provocation organised by the opposition.

The other day, the Kharkiv Oblast governor, Mykhailo Dobkin, said that the attack on the journalist had been organised by insiders:  'Why should modern day Nazis set fire to the Reichstag, when they can sort things out by thrashing anything up to ten local activists who have figured in the media?'  'Typically,' he adds, 'the only Maidan activists that get beaten up are those whose work for the community is funded from abroad.'

Berezovets regards these statements as rubbish, because the opposition is too weak and spineless to organise this kind of operation itself.

The members of the opposition themselves describe what has happened as planned provocation. 'Euromaidan protesters are being beaten. It's a planned, repeat, underline planned operation,' says opposition member Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The opposition is too weak and spineless to organise this kind of operation itself

Throughout the country

There have been numerous attacks and car burnings throughout Ukraine. During the last week alone about ten Maidan protesters have suffered at the hands of 'unknown people'.  Late in the evening of 24 December, the organiser of the Kharkiv Euromaidan, Dmytro Pilipets, was taken to hospital with multiple stab wounds. There had been three attackers, he said, none of them known to him. In the same city the so-called 'tytushky' attacked the headquarters of the local Euromaidan: they broke all the windows and covered the building with graffiti.

Petrenko comments that, whereas the government previously openly used the 'men in uniform' (siloviki) to do its work, now it's civilians who are beating people up – and not even in gangs: one man lies in wait for his intended victim.  Petrenko is convinced that events in Ukraine have reached the point of no return.

Berezovets views recent events as a dangerous sign that Yanukovych has lost control of the situation.  The police system has started to defend itself by cracking down on the activists. 'This is as bad as it gets, because for the first time no one is control of what's happening.'

The government might well have counted on the brutal crackdowns, the weather and the holiday period doing their work for them. Have they miscalculated? Is this the point of no return?