This is a video of pro-Maidan protestors arrested by police in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine and the heart of the industrial, Russian-speaking East. Kharkiv was spared most of the turmoil earlier, which was centered in the capitol, Kyiv, six hours to the west. It is also well north of Crimea, where the Russians seem to have intervened directly. Now that the protestors succeeded in removing Yanukovych from his seat, Yanukovych sympathizers in the east are striking back, and the police in Kharkiv seem to be backing them.
My stepson has been living with his girlfriend in Kharkiv since August, waiting for her to graduate from the University this spring and trying to learn Russian, so he can speak with her family, none of whom speak English. He's been making money teaching conversational English and has been continually reassuring his mom that everything was fine and he was safe. That seems to have changed...
For context, you need to know that Girlfriend is a native Russian-speaker, and learned her Ukrainian in school. Her parents are Russophiles and Yanukovych supporters. It was a unique experience to meet them in August and realize how nostalgic they are for the good old days when they were part of the Soviet Union and everything was so much simpler. They are apparently successful entrepreneurs with a new brick house, a new Toyota SUV and a big German truck, and several stores in a small city south of Kharkiv, but still seem to wish for the "good old days." Girlfriend got a scholarship from the Soros Foundation, (yes, he really does send out checks; just not to us,) to study for a year at the small state university in Wisconsin where she met my stepson last year. One of the requirements of the scholarship was that she had to return to Ukraine and finish at the university.
Since we visited and her son stayed in Ukraine, his mother has been following this obsessively, through Facebook and some expat blog sites, as well as all the news she can find. Much of this material is in Russian or Ukrainian. She doesn't read or speak either, so she emailed this video to him and asked if this really was Kharkiv. His response:
I walk past that spot every day, its about 100 yards from my school (Kharkov School of English). Things changed here today. I almost got caught in the middle of it but I made it home safe.The "Titushki" are the gangs of pro-Yanukovych thugs that have been roaming the streets of Ukraine, occasionally attacking Euromaidan demonstrators and sometimes random bystanders who get in their way. The police tried to keep them under control. When things were at their peak in Kyiv, most of the police in Kharkiv were sent to Kyiv to deal with the demonstrators, and the side-streets got a little scary. Now, the police are back in Kharkiv, but they seem to have taken the side of the titushki.
I was walking to a shop on Sumskaya Street. (The street where that video is being shot from) I was walking there around 3:30pm, all of the sudden I see everyone on the street running in my direction like something is chasing them, I froze for a second, watched the people running, then I saw groups of Titushki running, yelling, hitting sticks against the walls, so I turned around and ran back to the apartment. (Girlfriend was already at home safe). It was a very scary moment.
For the past week, there has been a standoff in Freedom Square:
Opposition forces in front of the Government building and on the other side of the square, standing around the Lenin Monument, pro-Russian forces.
It was very calm all week, both sides were chanting their slogans, waving flags n such but no violence. Then today, the pro-Russia group charged the opposition people in front of the government building (Medieval style - bats, sticks, shields, rocks, etc.) They overran the opposition, took control of the government building, and removed all Ukrainian flags which they replaced with Russia flags.
Watch the video from 3:10 - 3:20, you see the Russian flag flying at the top.
Those people being pulled away and "arrested" are opposition people, the pro-Russia group was given free leeway to attack. They now control Kharkov.
Girlfriend and I are waking up early tomorrow to go grocery shopping, it's calmest in the mornings, we'll get all of our things then be inside for the rest of the day. We've heard that the "Ukrainian government" has issued a 'State-of-Emergency'.
We have tried to encourage him to come home, but he's not leaving without her, and she's not leaving until she graduates. For now, we can just encourage him to keep his head down.