KIEV, Ukraine – Several thousand riot police swept into Kiev’s Independence Square about 4 a.m. Saturday and cleared the area of protesters who had gathered to oppose their president’s rejection of a pact that would link this former Soviet republic more closely with Europe.
Most protest leaders and reporters and many of the demonstrators who had filled the square Friday had left by the time police moved in.
“There were about maybe over 2,000 of us in the square when the police arrived,” Maxim Yakovenko of Kiev said. The 20-year-old student was with a few dozen people near the area after the operation. “They were pushing us out by sheer force and there were several thousand of them. They had shields and clubs and they just overwhelmed us.”
Police put up a makeshift fence around the square and officers stood shoulder to shoulder within the perimeter as more police arrived. Trucks carted away debris and firewood the protesters had been burning to keep warm.
A police officer who did not give his name said no one was injured in the operation. “We acted softly,” he said.
But at least one protester said the operation was not so peaceful. "They used shields, clubs and they were beating everybody right and left," said Miroslav Rezenchuk, 17, a high school student who was hiding in a coffeehouse with his girlfriend after they fled the square.
"I think they broke my rib when I fell and they were kicking me with their boots," Miroslav said, showing a large bruise on his rib cage. "A friend of mine had his head broken. It was very, very brutal," he said, before friends took him to a hospital.
The protesters took to the streets in anger after President Viktor Yanukovich rejected an association agreement with the European Union that would have tied his nation's political and economic future to the West, instead keeping intact Ukraine's historical links to Moscow.
Yanukovich complained in part that the alliance had not offered Ukraine enough economic assistance to help it meet the demands that would be imposed by the agreement, which would improve the country's trade relationship and other ties with the EU.
The protesters were demanding the impeachment of Yanukovich as well as the signing of the agreement with the EU.