Who’s In Control? A Dispatch From Kiev

May 4, 2014
A man sells souvenirs in Maidan Square on May 3 | By Dan Peleschuk of Global Post News

Kiev, Ukraine —  On May 1, Ukraine’s acting president Turchynov admitted that it lost control of eastern Ukraine. The following day, on May 2, the government launched a military offensive to take back eastern cities from militants. In Slavyansk, two military helicopters were shot down, allegedly by the pro-Russian forces. In Odessa, the death toll from clashes between protesters continues to increase. At the same time, a new group calling itself “little black men” emerged in Kharkiv. In an ominous Youtube video, a group of about fifty men dressed in black military gear and balaclavas stand armed in a field while a scrambled voice announces that “for every little green man [in Kharkiv], there will be a brigade of ‘little black men.’” The picture emerging in Ukraine is one of complete chaos. No one, not even the Kremlin, seems to be in control.

In stark contrast to the east, Kiev today is deathly quiet. Many Kievites have left the city for the holiday weekend, but this silence is neither peaceful nor the possible calm before the storm. Rather, it is another sign that no one is in control: there are no policemen anywhere in sight except a few uniformed young men outside the parliament. Khreschatyk, Kiev’s main boulevard that leads to the Maidan, is completely unpatrolled. A few camouflage-clad men roam around: they wear no insignia and it is unclear if they are the leftovers of Maidan’s samooborona, the self-defense network that was active during the protests, or just men with nowhere to go. Many ask passersby for money to “go back home.”

On Tuesday, April 29, clashes broke out between an unnamed militant group that marched through the city with torches and the Maidan leftover activists. The police did not intervene. For a country potentially on the brink of war, the capital is unprotected.

Right Sector still maintains a symbolic presence on Maidan: five to seven men hang out outside of a make-shift office with the group’s banner hung across the building. “We are so few in number here, because our brigades have moved east,” says an older Right Sector guard, who would not give his real name. “Those ‘little black men,’” a younger Right Sector member chimes in, “that’s us.” When I inform him that there were only about fifty men in the Youtube clip, he looks surprised, “we’re on Youtube?! I have to see that for myself.”