Kyiv City Hall revisited

20131211-172140.jpgThe last thing I did before leaving Kyiv yesterday (Tuesday) was visit City Hall for the second time.

At 1am it was abuzz with activity, even though maybe 150 people were trying to sleep on the floor.

A good 200 more were nervously awaiting an expected police raid,  which was eventually repulsed earlier today. Reports made it sound like a Keystone Cops raid.

A young man, about 23, came up to me for a chat, sporting a Napoleon frown.

His English was quite good. He spoke about how much he detested the country’s corrupt elite. He was angry but not shaking with rage.

I listened for five minutes – it seemed like it was something that he needed to get it off his chest after what had been the most charged 24 hours since the police attacked protesters on Sunday December 1.

He then walked off. I noticed for the first time he was carrying in his right hand, a very nasty looking crowbar.

A protester in City Hall, Kyiv, has his arm taped up to provide protection against possible police attack
A protester in City Hall, Kyiv, has his arm taped up to provide protection against possible police attack

Minutes later I spoke to another young man near the entrance,

He barely looked 16, was pasty-faced and slim as spaghetti. He looked like needed  a good feed.

With the atmosphere around the city centre darkening you genuinely hoped he wouldn’t get hurt in what seemed likely to happen.

The brief chats were largely unmemorable in their content.

But the intensity of the moment, the knowledge that both young mens’ lives might be irretrievably changed forever by actions in the coming few hours meant that inconsequential conversations of no importance whatsoever lodged vividly in my brain and even two days later I found myself hoping they would be OK.

Monday/Tuesday was that sort of night and Tuesday/Wednesday, by which time I had departed sounded even hairier.

Hundreds have been sleeping in City Hall, Kyiv, since it was first occupied on December 1
Hundreds have been sleeping in City Hall, Kyiv, since it was first occupied on December 1
'Flowers' lighten up the main entrance foyer
‘Flowers’ lighten up the main entrance foyer

From the outside the access to City Hall is two revolving doors which makes it extremely difficult to reoccupy by the authorities, as police have since found.

So any confrontation there is likely to be fraught with difficulties for the authorities – and people inside are at severe risk should there be a fight.

The piano in the main chamber - a pianist often plays it during the day to create a calm atmosphere
The piano in the main chamber – a pianist often plays it during the day to create a calm atmosphere

 

On the barricades

Earlier on Monday evening, my English pal was on a barricade, later dismantled, in Institutska where he told me a tale that sums up Ukraine and the crazy events of the last two weeks.

He said: “I turned up to show solidarity with the cause as I have been all along.

“There weren’t many people around so after a while it was down to me to oversee the operation of the oil drum fire. If you stand around it you can stay in one place for a long time in the snow.

“So we are facing a barricade of the normal riot police. They looked cold and tired and were covered in snow.

“Women came along and leant over their shields which they put in front of them to form a barrier and the women brushed off the snow drifts which had accumulated on their uniforms and they cleaned their visors which were steaming up with condensation from their breath.

“I noticed a couple of times that a couple would reach their hands out towards the oil drum fire, obviously they’re freezing. A couple sneaked a cigarette in too, which they are not supposed to do.

“And of course on the other side us were the Berkut (the feared military-style police). The riot police look tired.

“But the Berkut look like they’re on steroids and were physically much more active. They move around in fives from site to site and the riot police are also rotated so they can have breaks.

A group of protesters outside City Hall on Tuesday morning
A group of protesters outside City Hall on Tuesday morning

“Then there’s always a guy standing round on his own observing people – I reckon he’s SBU (the equivalent of the KGB). Just watching, not getting involved.

“So we were surrounded and outnumbered on all sides by police but we are free to walk past them and move around from protest site to protest site and they do nothing except stand around next to us.

“It’s just crazy. A taxi pulled up at one point with some tourists. He told them he couldn’t take them any further and they had to get out at the police line.

“So they climbed out and had to get their wheeled suitcases from the boot and head off in the snow, I assume, to Hotel Ukraina which is next to Independent Square.”

At 1.30am I returned to that scene to find the protesters’ fires had disappeared, and police clearing up the encampment that had sprouted up there.20131211-172632.jpg

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