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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Ukraine's Capital Descends Into Chaos

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's efforts to quash protests are getting ugly. 

The biggest nation in Eastern Europe is rapidly sliding into anarchy as the world watches from the sidelines. In Kiev, Ukraine, political activists are disappearing, journalists are being shot at and government-paid thugs are hunting down protesters.

Events escalated after the Ukrainian parliament, seeking to end protests over the government's decision to scuttle an association pact with the European Union, passed a set of harsh laws last week clamping down on the freedoms of speech and assembly. The draconian measures enraged a motley crew of soccer fans and right-wing militants, who engaged in a sustained battle with police attempting to bar entry to the government quarter. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and noise grenades, sometimes tying stones to the latter to inflict more damage. Rioters countered with sticks and makeshift shields, and before too long with real shields seized from the police. Both sides threw Molotov cocktails and stones.

Eyewitnesses said that police seemed to be intentionally shooting at cameramen and photographers. No exception was made for pro-government publications and TV channels: The goal appeared to be to prevent footage of the fighting from finding an audience. Some journalists, like this brave Polish TV reporter, nevertheless managed to document the street war.