Photographer Ilya Varlamov has captured a series of moving photos of the apocalyptic-looking violence of the protests in Ukraine.

"Activists run up, bearing shields and toss stones. Nobody sees the enemy, but everyone knows how far Berkut can toss grenades. No one approaches the determined line without a shield. The grenades that land are flashbangs and tear gas. This does not have much effect on the seasoned protestor. The key is to avoid a direct hit or a nearby explosion, which can cause concussion."

"The fire is constantly fed by more tires. The smoke screen must be dense! At one point Berkut attempt to feel out the protestors from a hill using a powerful projector."

"Protestors periodically shoot fireworks at Berkut. The entire square lights up and people cheer."

"In a nearby alley people prepare Molotov cocktails. In reality, most of the bottles contain either pure kerosine or gasoline, the recipe is no longer followed--no time. Empty glass bottles are in a big deficit."

"There are problems with bottles here. The mixture inside is liquid, not thick like in the original Molotov recipe, and the fuse is a simple rag. During the throw part of the gasoline can spill out and light up the thrower. Of course the fire is quickly put out, but the effect is very low. Almost 50% of all cocktails spill out before hitting their target."

"January 2014. Temporary cease fire at Maidan."

"Hearths always require more tires to be thrown into. Because of ash and ice, ground level already rose by one meter."

"Berkut troops were standing angry and soaked in smoke. Throughout the truce I spotted no provocations from either side."

"The Maidan’s quarries. People break ... into easy to throw stones, load into sacks and bring to the frontline."

"Look at the people. I said it already, but will repeat: all social classes are present on the squares--from students to pensioners."

"Berkut fighters are not at all eager to communicate. People are really angry, tired, and very irritable. I spoke to two, both refused to be filmed or recorded. They are reluctant to communicate."

"[Berkut] are the main fighting force here. They shoot at the crowd. They genuinely hate people on the other side of the barricades. ... There is plenty of scumbag on both sides and it's scary."

"The cordon of the government quarter."

"There is another cordon on Bankovska street, where the presidents headquarters are located. Militia there turned out to be not talkative at all.'

"In general, both parties have built up a ton of claims and hatred. I cannot imagine how this situation will unravel."

2014-01-27

Co.Exist

Burning Tires, Riot Gear, And Molotov Cocktails: Photos From Both Sides Of Ukraine's Protests

A photographer captures the complex motivations--and increasingly violent tactics--of both sides of the rising conflict in Kiev.

The protests in Ukraine have been going on now for two months. In the last week, the first protestors died in clashes with the police. If you've only been following cursorily (or not at all), now might be time to start paying attention. These epic pictures, from the LiveJournal of photographer Ilya Varlamov, should give you some sense of what exactly is happening in Kiev. It involves fire hoses, Molotov cocktails, and a lot of riot police. You can see them all in posts here and here.

"Hearths always require more tires to be thrown into. Because of ash and ice, ground level already rose by one meter."

Here's the background: President Viktor Yanukovych "set off the protests in November when he broke a promise to sign far-reaching political and free trade agreements with the European Union. Instead, he secured $15 billion in aid from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia," explains the Times.

"The fire is constantly fed by more tires. The smoke screen must be dense! At one point Berkut attempt to feel out the protestors from a hill using a powerful projector."

In the simplest terms, the protestors want Ukraine oriented toward Europe, rather than Russia. Protestors have gathered in a square in the capital known as the Maidan (you'll see a #EuroMaidan hashtag to talk about the protests). Elite units of the police, called the Berkut, have opposed them. The government has passed stringent regulations limiting the rights of people to protest; the protestors have continued.


"Berkut fighters are not at all eager to communicate. People are really angry, tired, and very irritable. I spoke to two, both refused to be filmed or recorded. They are reluctant to communicate."

Varlamov writes about the scenes he has captured in the Maidan:

"A sweet, ol' grandmother is pouring Molotv cocktail in a nationalists' bottles; and a manager of a large company is carrying ammunition to the student. And as it seems to me at this time, these people do not have a specific plan, nor idea of what to do next. Of course, individually, everyone has their own plan to 'save Ukraine.' For some its 'we need a couple of crates of AKs and grenades, we'll sort things out here quickly.' Others “need to ask the world community for help and bring in the UN troops.” At this time there is no central idea of what to do, an idea that can unite and point in one direction the people at Maidan. The only thing that is completely clear--people came out against Yanukovich."

"In a nearby alley people prepare Molotov cocktails. In reality, most of the bottles contain either pure kerosine or gasoline, the recipe is no longer followed--no time. Empty glass bottles are in a big deficit."

He shows protestors filling up bottles with gasoline (the recipe for a true Molotov cocktail takes too long, he writes) and breaking down stones and putting them into sacks to carry to the front lines--where protestors will hurl them at police. He writes that the ground level has already risen a meter from the ash from burning tires and the ice from frozen pools of water created by the fire hoses the police use to try to disperse the crowd. His caption of the riot-suited Berkut police talks about rumors that they are using live ammunition on the protestors. True or not, Verlamov writes that there are bad actors on both sides of the entrenched conflict: "There is plenty of scumbag on both sides and it's scary."

"Look at the people. I said it already, but will repeat: all social classes are present on the squares--from students to pensioners."

Though Varlamov's images paint a picture of Kiev as an apocalyptic battle ground, he strives to make clear that the city is not destroyed and that protests, while violent, are not damaging property or disrupting life outside of a small zone of the capital: "All of the action you see in the pictures are happening on a small square near the entrance to a Dinamo stadium. ... There is dark smoke and fire on all pictures: those are mostly burning tires. There is not tangible damage to the buildings. ... So the picture is pretty apocalyptic, but things are not so bad."

Above you'll find more of Varlamov's photos and captions, from his set of the protestors and another of his photos of the police--and his attempts to get them to talk to him so he could understand their side of the story. Remember that it's just one man's depictions and thoughts on the events taking place, but the photos are incredibly powerful regardless of political intent.

What will happen next? Varmalov writes: "In general, both parties have built up a ton of claims and hatred. I cannot imagine how this situation will unravel."

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3 Comments

  • Peter Apostoluk

    What started out as a new Cold War between the EU and Putin has evolved into a Civil War for the heart and soul of our country.

    Ukrainians have been subservient to the Russians since the Treaties of Pereyaslav in the 1600's , through Tsarism, Bolshevism, communism, socialism and now Putinism.

    The best source for information for the newly interested reader on our war in Ukraine is the EuroMaidan in English community on Facebook. Live news of the true grit of true Ukrainians.

    Contrary to what is reported here, true Ukrainians are united in one goal - freedom from Russia and Putinists. The three parties opposing Putin and his loyalists in Ukraine are diverse in thought and tactics. Vitali Klitschko is the George Washington of the Ukrainian Revolution.

  • You do realize that 'subservient' is a state of mind, right? Ukraine have been a sovereign state for almost 25 years, yet some Ukrainians can't stop blaming Russians for all their problems.

    "The three parties opposing Putin and his loyalists in Ukraine are diverse in thought and tactics."

    And none of them control the Euromaidan.

    "Vitali Klitschko is the George Washington of the Ukrainian Revolution."

    You should have begun with this sentence, so we would know not to take you seriously.

  • Peter Apostoluk

    Now that time has passed, read again.

    The true grit of Ukrainians has come out in the quest for freedom. The state of mind that we question is that of the occupier.

    And the boxer put himself out there in that fight. He did not hide behind a mask.

    Who do we take seriously today?