The protest movement later named the “EuroMaidan” started on 21 November, 2013. That very day’s evening, soon after the decision of Yanukovich-Azarov cabinet to “suspend” the preparation of the EU Association Agreement for Ukraine was published, those Ukrainians who disagreed with the change of course in Ukrainian foreign policy started to spontaneously self-organize on social media. The first protest action started in Kyiv in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) about 22:00. Journalists, civil society activists, some of political opposition leaders came to Maidan that night. That very day the court adopted a decision to forbid installing protesters’ tents and kiosks during protest actions in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Khreshchatyk Street and European Square.
The next day students of the higher education institutions in Lviv called a strike and at least 20,000 people gathered in the city’s central square for a meeting that night. The “EuroMaidans”, as gatherings to support Ukraine’s European integration were immediately named, appeared in other cities of Ukraine: in Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, Sevastopol. The Ukrainian Diaspora in Italy, France, Sweden, the UK, German, Poland, Czech Republic, Canada and the US also organized meetings to support protesters in Ukraine.
BBC called the meeting gathered by the Ukrainian opposition parties on 24 November, 2013, the largest-in-scale one since the Ukrainian 2004 Orange Revolution. But, as it turned out later, it was only a start. President Viktor Yanukovych refused to hear the protesters and turned the Vilnius Summit where the Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement was to be signed into absolute failure. Having this, the EuroMadian protesters were thinking over the forms of their further struggle and the opposition leaders declared that they would insist on the off-year elections in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament).
But the progress of Ukrainian peaceful protest movement was interrupted by the events that catalyzed the new phase of the EuroMaidan. The BERKUT special police task force brutally beat peaceful protesters, a thing never heard of in the new history of Ukraine. At about 4 a.m., when there remained only about 400 protesters for a night watch in Maidan, the square was encircled by armed soldiers of the BERKUT units who attacked the sleepy people, mostly students and youth. During the forced dispersal of the protesters, the BERKUT used smoke-puff charges; the people were beaten with batons and trampled down with feet. Trying to escape from violence, the people sought refuge behind the walls of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral. For the first time during many centuries the tocsin in the temple’s bell tower started tolling.
The riot police’s violence resulted in many seriously injured, beaten, arrested and missing people. According to a REUTERS’ report, their cameraman and photographer were among the victims of this dispersal.
The above events exploded the society. Almost instantly, on 1 December, 2013, mass protests took place in Kyiv, with the number of participants growing exponentially. The protesters’ main demands were: immediate resignation of all members of the cabinet; release of the activists arrested in Independence Square; arrest and prosecution of the officials who commanded to forcedly disperse the people in Maidan together with the executors of this punitive force; off-year parliamentary and presidential elections; renewal of the process of signing the Ukraine’s EU AA.
The police that blocked approaches to Independence Square the day before had to withdraw; the protesters occupied the buildings of the Kyiv City Hall and the House of Trade Unions. The fight near the President’s Administration building in Bankova Str. happened that very day. Many ENG teams of Ukrainian and foreign TV channels recorded videos of a group of provocateurs throwing paving stones, flares and Molotov cocktails at the police. They also tried to breach the police cordon using an excavator which, unhindered and under suspicious circumstances, suddenly arrived at the site of the fight. Opposition representatives, cultural figures, in particular, Sashko Polozhynsky (frontman of the Tartak band), appealed to the people to ignore provocateurs and not to storm the police ranks.
When the BERKUT units passed to attack, their soldiers were brutally beating unarmed people, even those lying down on the ground, as well as journalists whom they tightly encircled before. Nine people were arrested and, as usually, charged with organization of mass riots in Bankova Str.; all of the arrested were beaten severely. Then public activists stood in defense of the arrested: picketing the courts, a lie-down protest at the entrance to the General Prosecutor’s Office and other protest actions were organized.
The next mass meeting, numbering, according to different estimates, about 1 million people and named “The March of the Million” took place on 8 December, 2013, in Kyiv. It adopted the resolution to block other government buildings and set up tent camps in the streets of the government quarter in Kyiv. The opposition gave Mr. Yanukovych 48 hours to meet the demands of the EuroMaidan protesters and threatened to block his residence in Mezhyhirya in case he fails to comply with the terms of the ultimatum. After the formal part of the meeting ended, the protesters set out to the streets of the government quarter where they built several road blocks and barricades, in particular in Hrushevsky Str., Liuteranska Str., Kruhlouniversytetska Str., and at the intersection of Shovkovychna Str. and Bohomoltsia Str. In the evening masked men brought down the monument of V. Lenin in Bessarabska Square, with the police passively watching what was going on.
The next day’s morning units of the special task force TIGR and internal security troops broke the blockade of the military installation where they were quartered that was located in the town of Vasilkov (about 40 kilometers away from Kyiv), where the local residents had been continuously blocking their buses from leaving for Kyiv since 4 December, 2013. The military and police transport eventually arrived at the Kyiv downtown, but they could not exert any significant influence on the situation in the Ukrainian capital.
Meanwhile, the Internal Security Troops and the BERKUT riot police units made another unsuccessful attempt to assault on the protesters in Independence Square on the night of 11 December, which resulted in even greater influx of the people coming to the square. And again, just like on the night of 30 November, the Kyivans were called to the EuroMaidan by the tolling bells of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral. BERKUT’s attempt to storm the Kyiv City Hall also failed that morning. The EuroMaidan held out.