By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko was among several injured in protests against a recent ruling that convicted three men of plotting to blow up a statue. The protests came amidst lasting tensions from the government’s refusal to strengthen ties with the European Union.
On 10 January 2014, protests erupted after a court sentenced three nationalists to six years in prison. The convicted persons allegedly conspired to blow up a statue of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin in 2011. Protesters claimed that the trial was fixed against the men.
During the night of 10 January, protesters attempted to prevent police from taking the convicted men away from the court building. In the clash with police that followed, over ten activists, three Members of Parliament, and several journalists were injured. Some received fractures, brain trauma, and unconsciousness.
“As we see, the authorities do not stop in their acts of repression, it is not enough for them to deprive us of our rights, they want to put people in jail, give them six-year prison terms, just because they were talking about their rights,” said protester Dmytro Bulatov. “And they want to break our bones.”
By early 11 January, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman reported that eleven protesters had been injured, with two of them hospitalized, including former Ukrainian Interior Minister and current opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko.
Yanukovych pardoned Lutsenko in April 2013, after four years of imprisonment on charges of embezzlement and ordering illegal surveillance. Lutsenko had been a key figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought Yanukovych’s rival Yulia Tymoshenko to power.
Lutsenko was struck in the head and hospitalized in intensive care during a clash with riot police. He suffered a concussion, requiring bandages and a patch over his right eye.
“The doctors diagnosed a closed head injury, a concussion, three subcutaneous hematoma, and an open wound on the face. There was no breach of the skull, thank God,” said Lutsenko’s wife, Iryna. “He was conscious, but not the whole time. He asked for people not to take revenge, because the Berkut [riot police] just obey orders. So he is asking people not to take revenge.”
Ukrainian tensions have been elevated since President Viktor Yanukovych’s abrupt refusal to sign an association deal with the European Union in November 2013, which would have established closer ties between Ukraine and the Western bloc. Yanukovych’s decision sparked protests into December 2013, which constituted the largest Ukrainian anti-government movement since the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Lutsenko led the organization of the most recent protests, during which pro-EU demonstrators remained in central Kyiv, demanding the resignation of the government and new elections.
The Kyiv prosecutor’s office said it would investigate the actions of both protesters and police.
Leader of Svoboda Union Andriy Ilyenko said that abusive police fighters were photographed after removing their masks, and would be held accountable for their actions.
To ease tensions, Ukrainian officials must acknowledge that citizens have shifted toward an affinity for Western ties.
For further information, please see:
Independent – Ukraine Opposition Leader Yuri Lutsenko Injured in Police Clash – January 11, 2014
Interfax-Ukraine – Three MPs, Over Dozen Activists Seriously Injured in Clash with Berkut, Says Svoboda – January 11, 2014
Los Angeles Times – Ukraine Opposition Leader Injured in Clash with Police – January 11, 2014
RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Former Ukrainian Minister Hospitalized in Clash with Police – January 11, 2014
Telegraph – Ukraine Opposition Leader Injured in Fresh Kiev Clashes – January 11, 2014