Race to rebuild ramparts for future walls of fire

Anti-Government protesters in Kiev, who have lost vital defences to riot police, protect themselves with shields. Photo / AP
Anti-Government protesters in Kiev, who have lost vital defences to riot police, protect themselves with shields. Photo / AP

A new appeal went out from the surviving barricades of Kiev yesterday: bring anything that will burn!

Assailed on two flanks by hardened riot police, the protesters massed in Independence Square have been transforming their defences from ramparts of snow into walls of fire.

Once, the barricades were sprayed with water and the Ukrainian winter did the rest by freezing them into urban icebergs. Now that temperatures have climbed above zero and the ramparts are under greater threat from the security forces than ever before, the protesters have been driven to douse their defences with petrol.

When the police attack, the crowds set their own barricades ablaze, hoping to create an impenetrable wall of smoke and flame.

This uniquely reckless - or desperate - method of defence allowed them to hold back the bloody onslaught launched by the Government on Wednesday.

If the aim of that offensive was to destroy the biggest protest camp in Independence Square, then it achieved only partial success.

The demonstrators lost vital defences, including their strongest rampart on Grushevskogo St. For the first time since the rallies began in December, the security forces broke through to reach Independence Square.

Yesterday, scores of black-clad police officers brandishing metal shields were drawn up in military ranks on a hill overlooking the camp, only a few hundred metres from their foes. But despite everything, the protesters' tents still covered Independence Square - popularly known as the Maidan - and speaker after speaker bellowed defiance from a large stage. "Glory to Ukraine!" went up the cry. "Glory to heroes!" came the answering chant from the men on the barricades.

The protest camp was still there, but its defences were sorely weakened. Only one barricade stood between the Maidan and the security forces. That rampart repelled the assault only because the defenders managed to transform it into a blazing inferno. When an armoured car tried to batter its way through the flames, it encountered a rain of petrol bombs which crippled the vehicle and consigned the crew to an unknown fate.

But the problem with burning your own defences is that you must continuously rebuild them. Yesterday, a frantic effort was under way to reconstruct the rampart. Burly figures wearing helmets and masks threw wooden doors and long planks on to the barricade. Behind them, streams of well-wishers arrived with old pieces of furniture, ranging from desk drawers to battered sofas and wardrobes. All would be used as kindling for the last vital rampart.

"We ask people to bring us everything which can be burned," said Nikolai Vishnevskiy, 60, who was helping to oversee the effort. "When the police attacked, very quickly we learned that we can't fight armed police, so we can only defend ourselves by fire. We are appealing for people to bring petrol."

The snow-clad barricades were often reinforced with burning tyres. But these are now in short supply, suggesting that the protesters will eventually run out of fuel for the flames. "We need people to bring enough flammable material, but I can't say for how many days we can hold out," said Vishnevskiy.

"The only aim is to finish this and get rid of our President and his Government."

After the worst bloodshed in Ukraine's post-Soviet history, the protesters still believe they can win. But they have their backs to a wall of flame.

EU seeks to avert civil war

Three European Union foreign ministers travelled to Kiev on an emergency diplomatic mission to avert civil war yesterday as the EU prepared sanctions against Ukraine's political leadership.

Radek Sikorski, Laurent Fabius and Frank Walter Steinmeier, the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany respectively, flew to Kiev. An emergency meeting of the bloc was to be held in Brussels today.

Ukraine's protest leaders and the President they aim to oust called a truce agreeing to resume negotiations but President Viktor Yanukovych's declaration the military would take part in a "national anti-terrorist operation" fuelled new worries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande urged EU foreign ministers to prepare sanctions that target the authorities in Ukraine after the deaths of at least 28 people during clashes in Kiev.

- AP

- Daily Telegraph UK

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