Ukraine’s people are radicalizing by the hour. The estimates of at least 60 dead, the flow of blood, the images of snipers on both the government and the security side taking aim, the shrouded bodies being blessed by priests, and the incendiary rhetoric all point to a country where tensions, suppressed for decades, could take militant, armed form.
On the Maidan, Kiev’s central square and the main site of the protests, the “right sector” — a group of members of various groups including extreme rightists who sport Nazi symbols, have seized the role of protectors of the opposition. Volodymyr Fesenko, head of Kiev’s Center for Political Studies, says that “people support them not because they share its far-right ideology, but because they view it as the opposition’s army.”
The leader of the Maidan “army,” Dmitro Yarosh, said through a spokesperson that “our group is fully capable of waging a civil war.” Supporters of the group have already called for the people to arm themselves — a call that has allowed President Viktor Yanukovich to brand them as terrorists.
I spoke with two acquaintances in Kiev on Thursday evening, neither of whom wished to be named. Their descriptions were of a gathering horror. Bands of thugs now roam the streets, armed with pistols or more, trashing cars and threatening pedestrians. Insofar as they are loyal to any side, these are likely to be pro-government, but residents of any opinion fear them and are organizing armed groups of their own to confront them if necessary.
The western parts of Ukraine, including the ancient city of Lvyiv (or Lvov), are roused as well. With less opposition from the authorities, government buildings and police stations have been occupied. The governor of Lvyiv, Oleg Salo, confronted by demonstrators in his office, resigned — later saying he had done so under protest and retracting it.