Kiwi in 'apocalyptic' Kiev protests

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 17:36 21/01/2014
Jared Morgan
KIWI IN KIEV: Jared Morgan.

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A Kiwi caught up in riots in the Ukrainian capital has described "apocalyptic" scenes as protests against the government turn violent.

About 100,000 protesters gathered near government administration buildings in Kiev on Sunday night in defiance of legislation designed to curb demonstrations.

The package of new laws was rushed through Parliament last week. It restricted free speech, the free press, the right of assembly and internet use.

Former Fairfax reporter Jared Morgan has been living in Kiev since 2011.

He witnessed Sunday's protest until he was forced to retreat when riot police began firing tear gas and smoke bombs at the crowd.

"The scene [on Sunday night] was chaotic and frightening, and the scene [in the morning] was apocalyptic, it looks like World War III in that street," he said.

"What happened was a Mexican standoff for maybe five, six hours. Then the crowd got increasingly aggressive, so we saw Molotov cocktails and stun grenades."

Burnt-out shells of buses, explosives and broken cobbles littered the street, he said.

"People were breaking the pavement to hurl at police, meanwhile police were firing back with rubber bullets. People had eye injuries, and one person had a stun grenade blow up in his hand, which was amputated."

Demonstrations began in November after the government refused to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union in favour of pursuing closer ties with Russia.

Morgan said until Sunday, it had been a peaceful revolution, with people assembling to protest injustices and asking to move towards more democratic leadership.

But the latest laws had turned Ukraine into a "little Russia," triggering a violent response.

"It's constantly evolving, and in a few days it's gone from peaceful protest to all hell breaking loose."

Reinforcement troops were expected to come in from outside the capital to quell the protests. The situation could become even more aggressive in the next days.

Morgan said it was now a "waiting game," and with harsh penalties for failing to comply. Because the new laws allow for jail terms of up to 15 years, he was uncertain of his future in Kiev.

"Nobody really knows ... there's going to be more fighting, bloodshed and huge problems," he said.

"Two months of quiet protest with a few dramatic moments has suddenly turned into what some people are calling the brink of civil war."

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