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“They Can Shoot Any Second”

Aharon Granot, Kiev

The temperature is way below zero in Kiev’s Independence Square, but that hasn’t stopped half a million people from pitching tents in their months-long, often violent anti-government vigil. While Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s guns were aimed at the crowds protected by tires and sandbags, Mishpacha’s Aharon Granot camped out with the opposition and saw who really loves and hates the Jews.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The forces are pitted against each other on Groshevskugo Street in downtown Kiev, where the president’s residence, the parliament, and other Ukrainian government institutions are concentrated. Outside, frigid temperatures of minus 20 are gripping the country. On the snow-covered hills above us, the Berkut — the special defense forces of the Ukrainian government — stand with their weapons drawn, prepared to descend upon the protesters with the full weight of their wrath.

The protesters of the opposition, protected by helmets and protective vests, say they have no live ammunition, but the clubs and shields that they “borrowed” from the police can wield a mighty blow. Up to now, the police claim they haven’t used live ammunition against the demonstrators either, although in circumstances that have yet to be clarified, several people were killed by live shots — with both sides blaming each other.

“Be careful,” warns Sergei Tinkevich, our contact in the opposition. “They’re liable to open fire at any moment.” Nineteen-year-old Sergei, head shaven and face masked, clad in khakis and high boots, isn’t the kind of guy a Jewish-looking visitor would want to meet in a back alley. But he escorts us efficiently through the piles of tires and sandbags that separate the troops on the hill from the protesters, introducing us to his comrades as Israeli journalists. Given the spate of anti-Jewish attacks inUkrainein the last months, I would have thought that would be the worst way to describe us. Instead, the rebels actually smile. 

If there is anything the Ukrainian rebels wish to prove to the world, it’s that they’re not anti-Semitic despite their reputation, which they claim is government-incited. 

As we take a short break by one of the barricades, warming ourselves around a fire burning inside a barrel, Sergei tells me, “You should know that we very much admire you for coming. There are not many journalists who are willing to enter the heart of the danger zone, especially in such cold.” Around the heated barrel, the protesters don’t seem to care about our religious affiliation, as long as we present their cause to the outside.

Still, I can’t resist challenging Sergei with a direct question. “We heard that thugs from among your ranks were responsible for beating a yeshivah student.” As I speak, Gershon Beloritsky, a Jewish lawyer and my translator for the day, seems to grow paler. The Jewish community here can’t afford to take sides, and it looks like I asked one question too many.

 

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