The 18th of February should have been the key day for a bloodless resolution to the Ukrainian crisis. Instead the Ukrainian government escalated violence in an unprecedented way. The upper echelon bureaucrats not only ignored the voices of its people, as they have done in the past, but also decided to punish them for their desire to be free. As a compromise between the protesters and the government, parliament was to vote on the revival of a 2004 version of the constitution. This would have reduced Vicktor Yanukovich’s powers to what they were when he was elected in 2010. This quick fix constitutional reform was prepared by the opposition factions. However, the Speaker of Parliament, Volodimir Rybak, refused to bring it to a vote. The conference in the speaker’s offices ended in impasse. Some members of parliament belonging to the Party of Regions departed for discussions in their committees while others simply fled.
Several thousand protesters marched in support of the vote in well-organized columns towards the Parliament building. Among the protester were many older people and women. They intended to express their support in a peaceful manner. But on their way to Parliament they were met by “Berkut” squads, two water cannons and an armored personnel carrier. The police immediately started to fire on the crowd with rubber bullets and throw flash grenades. They aimed at people’s heads, injuring many, including women.
Within an hour dozens of the protesters were wounded by these employees of the Ministry of Interior. In order to protect themselves from this violence the protesters made a barricade of tires and set it on fire. In response Berkut fired the water cannons. The supporters of the Party of Regions gathered in Marinski Park, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the protesters. The police did nothing to prevent this. Plainclothes policemen posing as protesters fired at Berkut, a fact confirmed by surprised Berkut officers.
Within the first hour twenty five injured were brought to the medical tent at Independence Square. At the same time snipers were spotted near the government building. They were Ukrainian Special Forces wearing no identifying insignia. They started shooting at protesters in Shovkovichna st. The commanders of the protesters Self Defense Forces who tried to negotiate with Berkut were seized as hostages. Photographs of police armed with automatic weapons were posted in social media. In several hotspots the police used excessive force, and once again, journalists were among the injured. News of the first protester’s death broke at 2:00 pm. At 3:00 PM Parliament Member Lesya Orobets announced that there were already three corpses in the improvised medical center in the Officer’s Building. At 4:00pm in the same building there were more than 150 wounded, 30 of them severely.
Also at 4:00 pm the Independence Square subway station was closed, supposedly due to a bomb threat. Shortly afterwards all three subway lines in Kiev were closed under the pretext of a possible terrorist attack. This led to a massive traffic jam in the capital. In spite of these obstacles people headed for Independence Square in the thousands. During these events Speaker of Parliament, Volodimir Rybak, called a briefing and announced that the next day’s session of Parliament had been canceled. Instead, there would be negotiations between leaders of the opposition and Viktor Yanukovich. The violent conquest of Independence Square had entered its most aggressive phase.
The American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, announced that in response to the use of force by the Ukrainian Government the Office of the United States was considering all possible sanctions. Afterwards Berkut attacked and occupied the Ukrainian House. Journalists noticed that the officers were armed with heavy weapons. Special Forces moved towards the Independence Square barricades. News that nine protesters were dead came at 6:30 pm. Later another protester died in a hospital.
At 8:00 pm the Ministry of the Interior announced an anti-terrorist operation and police began an attack on Independence Square. Berkut burned tents near the Monument of Independence, one of which was serving as a church. All of this transpired shortly after Yanukovich announced he would meet with opposition party leaders. The prime minister of Germany tried to reach Yanukovich by phone to no avail. During that time another protester died in Independence Square and protesters all over Ukraine began moving towards Kiev.
The police tried to breach the barricades of Independence Square with armored personnel carriers but protesters managed to set one of vehicles on fire. Close to midnight Berkut started a massive attack. Kiev hospitals were overfilled with wounded. Many needed surgery to remove imbedded bullets. Close to 1:00 am Berkut threw Molotov cocktails into the Trade Unions Building from its roof and from the street. According to unofficial information more than fifty injured protesters who were brought there during this tragic day could have burned to death inside. Nevertheless despite these efforts police did not manage to defeat “Maidan”.
According to official information from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health from the 18th to 19th of February at least 25 people died and 350 were injured. According to protesters in Independence Square the number of injured exceeds 1000. In its negotiations with the president the opposition demanded a ceasefire and the withdrawal of police from the square. In response Yanukovich demanded that Independence Square be evacuated. On the morning of the 19th the highway patrol set up blockades on roads into Kiev. The subway also remained closed. The minister of defense confirmed that amphibious army divisions were moved from Dnepropetrovsk toward Kiev to give the impression that Independence Square will be attacked by the armed forces. At the same time Viktor Yanukovich removed General Vladimir Zaman from his position as Head of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, appointing the more obedient admiral Yuriy Ilyin in his place.
Simultaneously in many regions of the country people started to occupy local administration buildings. There was an almost immediate response by the director of the Security Service Oleksandr Yakymenko, who announced the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation on the entire territory of Ukraine. The Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and Border Patrol in regional governments were to take part in this operation. However in the evening the press secretary of the Security Service made an important correction to their head’s announcement, stating that Yakimenko didn’t mean the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation, but only its preparation.