One week ago, Ukraine's elite police force, Berkut, attacked protesters in Kyiv's Independence Square in the middle of the night. An ice-skating rink was supposed to be built there, and the national Christmas tree set up and decorated, officials explained.
But Berkut did not simply drive the protesters away. They surrounded them and beat them with truncheons. Many were taken away. About 20 remain unaccounted for, some behind steel doors in the hospital. Some may be dead. The victim in the embedded video, beaten by almost every Berkut who passed him, is possibly among them.
Testing the Market
The attack acted as an adrenaline rush to the protests. The following day, thousands more gathered at St. Michael's Square. I was among them. At one point, a young man shouted that Berkut was on its way. He didn't tell the crowds what to do; he just said they were coming. The crowed hesitated, then decisively moved in the direction that Berkut was coming. Suddenly, the young man said it was a false alarm. I had the feeling that he wanted to measure how afraid people were of Berkut the day after the attack.
Since the attack, protesters have been allowed to completely occupy Independence Square. There are tents, donation points for clothing, blankets and food, warm meals and tea served for free, and several occupied public buildings where protesters can warm up or sleep. There are no police in sight. What exactly, then, is going on?
The theory I find most credible is that the attack was a market test. The government wanted to find out if they could get away with violence. They learned that they cannot. Now they are testing the public in other ways, for example, imprisoning those arrested at the protests. Clearly, some of the ruling class in Ukraine have some marketing savvy.
The latest news is that Yanukovich is preparing to sign, or possibly has already signed, an agreement with Russia that will give him short-term financial relief. I have heard that any such agreement would have to be ratified by the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament.
Voting with Their Feet
That's why tomorrow's rally is so important. Members of Parliament must see that the people will not accept servitude to Putin, and that supporting the agreement will enrage their constituents. Yanukovich is too far lost: he is trying to protect himself and his family. He has lost sight of the country he is supposed to be serving.
For the last two Sundays, there have been huge mass rallies, the first drawing about 150,000, and the second nearly a million or more. The goal for tomorrow's rally is a million. I expect a huge turnout.
Simply by showing up, the people send a message that tolerance for repression in Ukraine is limited. The bigger the turnout, the more afraid Ukraine's rulers will be to use force or to ratify the agreement with Russia.
So much is at stake. Ukrainians didn't have to fight for their freedom in 1991. But they have to fight for it now.