Ukraine burns

January 23, 2014 - 6:10:42 am

As Ukrainian protests turn bloody, the silence of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is hard to fathom.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov called protesters who have been fighting state might for over two months now terrorists. His statement may be seen as the rant of a leader who has got fed up with demonstrators bravely camping at Kiev’s Independence Square in the bitter cold. However, it is more likely that Azarov’s statement reflects the dictatorial mindset of a regime that is out to strong-arm the public into toeing its line. 

The violent clashes peaked yesterday leading to the death of five protesters. 

Scenes of burning tyres letting out dark acrid fumes were reminiscent of near apocalyptic scenes in Kiev that in 2004 saw the peaceful Orange Revolution under Yulia Tymoshenko come to fruition. 

President Viktor Yanukovich, before huddling with opposition leaders — one of whom is a former boxer — issued a statement that he did not like bloodletting and wanted peace. 

Scenes of burning tyres, policemen hauling protesters with a woman showing a wooden cross to discourage them, and the wounded being treated replaced what earlier used to be sights of hundreds cooking meals in the protest zone or stealing forty winks as policemen kept watch. 

The brutally cold weather didn’t dissuade thousands to rally against Yanukovich’s decision to sign a customs deal with Russia. The European Union has warned Ukraine against any brutal crackdown on protesters. The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, warned Kiev of ‘possible’ reprisals, but did not announce sanctions.

Missing from all the action is Tymoshenko. Though the fiery leader is spending time in jail, she is not the one to sit quiet. However, except for a feeble-sounding statement egging on protesters to keep going, she has been unusually silent. The darling of the Orange Revolution is in prison for a gas deal with Russia that Yanukovich said was not signed with Ukraine’s interest in mind. 

Ukraine’s proposed deal with the European Union that was derailed almost at the last moment had a proviso for freeing Tymoshenko, who had been complaining of acute back pain. She was being treated by doctors from Germany, especially brought to the prison. The leader had at another time complained of beatings by the prison guards. 

Tymoshenko’s near silence as demonstrators risk their lives for more freedom —the European way — than more bondage by going the Russian way, is confusing. Her absence has loomed large over the protests, but her silence is hard to fathom. Is Yanukovich’s regime doing something to stonewall the comments that she would be issuing from prison. Or is her silence a strategy to let Yanukovich waste in the heat of protests, without the need for her intervention. The truth is likely to come out after the chaos in Kiev ebbs, and it will be an important one at that.