Inside Kiev’s War Zone: Catapult 2, Recon Units, Fireworks and Water

January 23, 2014 | Marina Galperina

Ilya Varlamov, an independent photojournalist we’ve been following for years, finally arrived in Kiev last night. He posted photos on his LiveJournal, along with a no-frills account of what it is actually like inside. Here are some highlights, translated. For the last four days, Kiev is a war zone, constantly erupting in combat and flames.

As expected, the protestors have no political consensus other than their opposition of the President Yanukovych, the corruption of the state and the excessiveness of police force. Varlamov describes an 80-year-old man hobbling in, asking for a molotov cocktail to chuck at the police. “You won’t throw it far enough,” they say. “Give it to me. I’ll show them. They can’t treat me this way.” Varlamov writes that the masses are mostly apolitical, so when opposition leaders try to give speeches, they can’t really hold the attention or trust of the crowd for long.

(Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

The European Square is used for deliveries of food, fire supplies and medical aid. The people have militarized and compartmentalized their resistance. This is Grushevskiy Street. These trench-like barricades were set up by the protestors. Only press, other protestors and volunteers are allowed in here now.

There is a 100 meter wall of burning tires, tires brought here from all over the city. The wind is, luckily, blowing away from the protestors at the soldiers of the Internal Forces police militia (Berkut). The wall is maintained by a special unit of protestors, who make sure the fire is burning consistently and that any government soldiers that dare to go past the barrier are swiftly pushed back.

(Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

There are also special recon units, citizen protestors who go in to track the movements of the police army forces, informing the rest of the protestors, so they may direct their defense of flying rocks and Molotov cocktails accordingly.

The police have started using water hoses on the protestors, but they are so aggravated and euphoric from the possibility of victory, Varlamov says, that they’re walking around wet in the freezing night, only warming themselves by the fire when instructed by volunteer medics.

(Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

“Actually, the center of Kiev is quite pretty right now,” Varlamov cynically writes. Protestors continue to chuck flaming fireworks at the Berkut military police. Somewhere ahead, a few hundred Berkut soldiers are planning an attack. These are always devastating to protestors.

(Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

Varlamov says that though Catapult 1 has been taken down, another one has been built. It’s really more of a sling shot than a catapult, but for austerity purposes, it’s being called Catapult 2. It takes six people to operate Catapult 2 — three to pull, two to hold, and one to arm. The flaming shots effectively fire far into the darkness, but it takes whole 2-3 minutes to reload.

(Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

There is a shortage of Molotov ingredients. It is too liquid, half of it spilling out, with the throwers of the cocktails frequently setting themselves on fire, then put out by follower protestors.

Like all spare tires, all spare glass and all flammable liquids are being used to combat the police — as receptacles for these DIY grenades. There are volunteers passing out tea and sandwiches and spare boots. The “gawkers” who are not part of combat are all sequestered on hills. They help how they can — attempting to blind the police with laser pointers when they see them climbing a structure to throw their own Molotovs or smoke bombs at the protestors.

(Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

There are rumors of snipers on the roofs, but just rumors for now. The protestors attempted to break into the sewers in an attempt to turn off the water supply of the military police. The lids are bolted shut from the inside, but it wouldn’t work anyway. Berkut continues to pour water on the protestors. And this is a video a protestor, stripped naked by the military police in the freezing weather.

CNN reports vague numbers: 70 people have been detained since Sunday, 195 police officers have been injured, 36 journalists have been injured.

Four protestors have been shot dead by the police.

(All photos: Ilya Varlamov)