by Serhii Plokhii
Sunday, December 8, 2013 witnessed by far the largest public protest to take place in the city of Kyiv since the Orange Revolution of 2004. About 800,000 people poured into Independence Square (Maidan) and Khreshchatyk Boulevard in the city center to protest actions taken by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
The protests had been initiated eighteen days earlier, on the night of November 21, by a few hundred people appalled at the abrupt change in the policy of the Ukrainian government, which, under pressure from Russia, had refused to sign the long-awaited association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. The EuroMaidan, or the European Maidan protests, as they became known in the media, were started by Kyiv yuppies—a relatively small group of Western-oriented journalists, businessmen, political activists and students—who saw in the association agreement their last hope of reforming Ukrainian politics and society in order to liberate them from the Soviet legacy and the corrupt Russian-backed regime of President Yanukovych.
The EuroMaidan turned into what became known as the Revolution of Dignity on Sunday, December 1, after government riot police brutally dispersed student protesters encamped on the square. Close to 350,000 Kyivans took to the streets of the capital. The orientation toward Europe and signing of the association agreement with the EU remained among their slogans and goals. But the new protest was fueled first and foremost by their refusal to countenance the regime’s brutality as a way of solving political problems. The people rejected the increasingly authoritarian government, which they now wanted to bring down.
On the following Sunday, December 8, the number of protesters more than doubled, their ranks increased by sympathizers from other parts of Ukraine, above all from the country’s pro-European west. Emboldened, those leading the protests called on their followers to blockade the Presidential Administration. The Revolution of Dignity was about to enter a new stage. The government knew that and was preparing troops to crush the revolt. Violence was in the air.