Ukraine’s Bloody Thursday Swells the Ranks of the Revolution

The bloodiest day yet in Ukraine's three-month-long political crisis saw volunteers rush to makeshift hospitals in churches and hotels as the protesters' anger and commitment grew

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Etienne De Malglaive / Getty Images

A medical team with a field hospital is shown set up in the lobby of the Ukraine Hotel near Maidan Square on Feb. 20, 2014

On Thursday evening, Olga Gurina begged off work early, cooked a quick dinner for her teenage son and rushed to the Mikhailovsky monastery in her hometown of Kiev, where a field hospital had been set up to treat the wounded from that day’s revolutionary violence. She found herself at the center of a citywide mobilization. That morning, police had openly used live ammunition against protesters for the first time since the uprising began in November. Dozens of people were killed. But instead of frightening the protesters away, it brought them out by the many thousands to help the revolt in whatever way they could.

Gurina, a middle-aged retail manager, offered the paramedic’s training she remembered from her student years. The monastery’s refectory had been turned into an operating room, with beds laid out beneath the gilded icons of Orthodox saints. In the entryway, a nurse in a surgical mask asked curtly about Gurina’s qualifications and, apparently satisfied, told her to strip off her overcoat and get into scrubs. Until that point, Gurina had never taken part in street protests in Kiev or anywhere else. And why was today the day she joined? “Why?” she snapped back at a reporter. “Because they’re killing us out there!” She may have wanted to say more, but a young woman who looked to be in her late teens was brought into the refectory screaming, a crude bandage covering the left side of her face. Gurina got to work.

A few blocks away, at the Hotel Ukraina, other volunteers had set up a makeshift clinic in the lobby and, in a nearby wing, a morgue for those who had died of their wounds. According to the medical corps of the Maidan, as Kiev’s revolutionary encampment is known, between 70 and 100 people died in Thursday’s violence, a staggering figure even by the standards of the Arab Spring revolts of the past few years. But this was not the Middle East. This was the biggest country in Eastern Europe, home to a large if fledgling middle class with aspirations of joining the European Union.

In late November, those aspirations first ignited the uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych when he decided to scrap an integration deal with the E.U. in favor of a closer alliance with Russia. But what began as a peaceful movement of students intent on a European future has morphed into an all-out insurrection against the state. With each successive attempt to scare away the protesters by force — first with police truncheons, then with tear gas and stun grenades, and finally with live bullets — the intensity and size of the revolt have grown. After Thursday’s violence, much of the city center began to resemble a war zone. Young women on the square poured gasoline into empty beer bottles to make Molotov cocktails, hundreds of them. Young men in ski masks patrol the occupied city center armed not only with clubs but with rifles. And in other cities across Ukraine, the revolt continued to grow more violent. In the city of Lviv, an opposition stronghold in western Ukraine, an explosion caused a fire in the barracks of the Berkut riot troops, marking the latest in a series of attacks this week against the security services around the country.

The Mikhailovsky monastery, with its pastel blue chapels and gilded spires, has been a sanctuary for the revolutionaries from the beginning. When the first crackdown in late November saw riot troops beat dozens of students in the center of Kiev, many of them ran inside the Mikhailovsky cathedral and found haven inside its walls. By Thursday night, the monastery had become a logistical hub for the revolution. Hundreds of regular citizens, including elderly women and students in their teens, streamed through its gates all evening to provide assistance.

Some brought medicine, surgical equipment, warm clothing, a television, lamps, fire extinguishers, pots of soup and sandwiches. Others volunteered to stack and sort it all, to work the kitchen or treat the wounded. In the monastery yard, a young paramedic named Sasha laid a mannequin on a piece of cardboard and began teaching an open-air seminar on first aid, focusing on gunshot wounds and broken limbs. “Remember, your first priority is not to dull the victim’s pain but to stanch the bleeding,” he instructed. At least 50 people formed a circle around him and watched with rapt attention.

But amid the camaraderie of the gathering, there was also much anxiety and even paranoia. Smaller circles of people traded rumors of the military planning to use poisoned gas and of Russian death squads coming across the border in helicopters to help Yanukovych crush the revolt. Particular venom in these conversations was reserved for the Russian government, which the revolutionaries believe (with fairly good reason) to be goading Yanukovych into using force. So it was no surprise that my Moscow accent did not help me strike up conversations with the volunteers. Even after studying my American passport and press accreditation, the priests refused to give their names or answer questions. “We are only praying here,” said one of them as he instructed volunteers on where to put deliveries of medicine. “The church is open to all.”

It is, however, not open to any supporters of the President, for whom the role of the Mikhailovsky monastery has been a particularly bad omen. As one of the oldest religious institutions in Kiev, the birthplace of the Russian Orthodox Church, its solidarity with the revolutionaries has given the uprising not only moral weight but the air of a righteous crusade. Earlier in the day, the priests, some wearing bulletproof vests, had helped lay dead bodies along one of the monastery’s walls so that people could come to identify them. As the bereft bent down to inspect the pale faces, the priests of the monastery stood silently in prayer.

In the refectory, the doctors sometimes found themselves unable to treat the wounded with their spare supplies (the clinic even lacked a defibrillator), and as morning turned to afternoon more corpses were brought out to the monastery yard. “Nearly all we’ve seen today are gunshot wounds,” said one of the doctors, Alexander, declining to give his last name. But after receiving first aid, the victims often needed to be taken to hospitals, and some refused out of a fear of being arrested and taken from the state-run wards directly to prison. “Those were the hardest cases,” Alexander added. “We did all we could.” By nightfall, thankfully, the police had retreated from the Maidan, and there were no new victims coming to the refectory. So apart from changing bandages, Gurina and the other volunteers were then able to change the sheets on the dozen operating tables, getting them prepared for the clashes they feared would come by morning.

97 comments
Daniel RetroDan Joseph Dorey
Daniel RetroDan Joseph Dorey

People are rising up everywhere thanks in most part to the internet. Rulers can't get away with BS anymore.

Kotaro Minami
Kotaro Minami

what happen in egypt is massacre by military junta to passive and peace pro democrasy supporter. world knows it. dont lie, arabish qahera :-)

Arabish Qahera
Arabish Qahera

please stop speaking about EGYPT especially when you know nothing of what is happening in EGYPT. "say something good or SHUT up"

Leo Martínez
Leo Martínez

They've posted about the situation in Venezuela too. Stop complaining, it doesn't help at all.

Leo Martínez
Leo Martínez

They also posted something about the situation in Venezuela about 30 minutes ago...

Brenda Blackwell
Brenda Blackwell

It a true shame when things like this have to happen and many people get killed. I pray for peace in our world, also for health care, and hunger. With all the land we have there should be no hunger! That at least would end one problem, we need people to grow more food to help those in need. We need more workers in home health care for the elderly, too!!! Even the smallest thing you can do will help out and help others. What a great feeling it is to give.

Jose David Quiroga
Jose David Quiroga

Austin, although he may have been elected fairly, he has ruled like a dictator. Making trumped up chargers against his political opponents, not allowing free media (threatening to shut down news media and kicking out reporters from the country), etc.

Lidia Acar
Lidia Acar

Copy paste by the United States!

Gen Petrov
Gen Petrov

What is interesting, is that the reason for this riot is delaying for the EU plans, and both the US and Canada think of the EU as a dead man walking, a dozen of bankrupt countries without common future. The problem of Ukraine, and it shows it, 1. it has absolutely no respect for private property; some bums crashes other's people property; it's outrageous!!! 2. they don't have respect for law. Their government was democratically elected, and it's unthinkable, if Americans now go out on the streets and kill cops and crash real estate because of Obama care. Capitalism needs stability. I would never ever invest anything in Ukraine after what just happened. Ever. They don't have respect for property, they don't have respect for law, they don't have respect for government and they don't have respect for money. You give them money, they will blow it away. The order and police enforcement is what they really need.

Chris Au
Chris Au

Absolutely right. Westerners can be very dumb sometimes.

Htoo Myat
Htoo Myat

No thanks. I can accept the fact that I can't do anything for them. I don't need to pretend like I'm contributing something while actually giving nothing in order to make myself feel better.

Danielle Beaudette
Danielle Beaudette

I hope the rest of the world follows suit and topples governments!! Bring down the 1%!!!!

Juan M. Bautista
Juan M. Bautista

We the people will not be governed by man made laws; GOD WILL GIVE POWER TO THE PEOPLE TO RISE!

Monica Godo
Monica Godo

Ukraine and Venezuela. Let us pray and not forget them.

SCell Macc
SCell Macc

È foda o negocio ter chegado a esse ponto..

Touman Pai
Touman Pai

Egyptian style : fight for freedom hope future .....

Devon Dale
Devon Dale

Anarchy is always a good thing. It was the foundation stone of America by the immigrant English colony in America 200 years ago & was the weapon of choice against the toxic domination of their motherland England. It worked & America is now a superpower!

Alae Lunae Dharma
Alae Lunae Dharma

Ukraine resist! We are with you! Wish you will be free soon!

Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson

Don't join the EU please Ukraine make the right choice

Ernesto Cimbalo
Ernesto Cimbalo

BASTA, se un Leader nn è riconosciuto dal suo popolo, se ne DEVE andare!

Yuri Smirnov
Yuri Smirnov

What about Bulgaria in Euerope , puurest state with pure people ?

Umut Gümüş
Umut Gümüş

#ResistanceBrasilialBangkokCairoAthinaKievDamascusIstanbul

Andrea Scheffler
Andrea Scheffler

Please open your eyes. Who will be the winner of these protests? It is the USA, their partners, the oil companys and Monsanto. Never the people. They will always be the looser. Nothing will get better.

Meti Shukolli
Meti Shukolli

Death !!! To all Tyrants and their Tyranny's !

Katya Perrotta
Katya Perrotta

If you are interested in up-to-date news on the Ukrainian Revolution, look up FB page Tucson for Free Ukraine

Austin Konrad
Austin Konrad

Did You ever hear them talking about the death toll in Columbia last year over the riots? Good luck hearing anything about our hemisphere on US news. BTW Maduro is not a dictator he was elected, also Venezuela's elections are more reliable than the USA's and have higher ethical standards. Don't believe the hyperbole.

Kyle Te
Kyle Te

Give those students some automatic weapons and bombs to level the fight.

Lori DeCambra Kavanaugh
Lori DeCambra Kavanaugh

Throw the white flags and go to the leaders ! People stand together or die. Your government still hides.

AnitaB
AnitaB

Having lived here for more than 13 years, your comment is laughably ignorant. I hope you've been following along as they open up the properties of the people who have fled because of fear of arrest. One particularly enlightening video begins with a clip of Viktor Yanukovich assuring people 'I am a simple man, I live just like you do'- and then goes on to show his Kyiv estate. And that's one of many. 

I'm quite sure that if you preferred to do business with the last regime, Ukraine does not need or want your business- you are obviously on Yanukovich's team. The fact is- since Y came into office, private Ukrn business has nearly been choked altogether and foreign investment has dried up because of corrupt business practices by the government's cronies. 

If America's government ever turns on her people as Yanukovich did on his, Americans need to get out into the streets, too. 

And- your last 2 points- MUCH money has been poured into Ukraine in the past and it has simply vanished. The Kyiv-Odessa 'autobahn' project? You should see that road. Yet millions were sent over to help build it. Looking at the receipts for furniture, electric fixtures, luxury cars, and on and on being found on the property held by those who've fled (and are being sought for mass murder now)- it's not hard to know where these millions have gone. And other 'loans' and aid packages.

They have not had order or fair police enforcement; I hope they manage to get it now. 

AnitaB
AnitaB

It's interesting that many Ukrainians do not want to join the EU (many of the protesters in Kyiv are not actually in favor or EU integration). But- they are more leery of that CIS trade union. Most Ukrainians would like to be independent, altogether- no binding ties to Europe or Russia. But unfortunately, in today's world and sandwiched right in between Russia and Europe, I can hardly see how they can avoid joining one or the other.