KIEV, Ukraine — I heard a strange clanking sound this morning in my hotel room overlooking the Ukrainian capital’s main square. I carefully opened the balcony door and looked down. A bullet from a sniper rifle was on the floor of the balcony.
Apparently it had ricocheted off the rail.
Soon after, several protesters from Independence Square, known as the Maidan, knocked on my door. They wanted to check to see if any snipers were hiding in my room. The hotel director accompanied them, eager to prove that such things were impossible in his establishment.
Yesterday was the bloodiest day in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history: At least 70 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded by snipers on Kiev’s Independence Square and its nearby streets, according to medical workers treating the victims. Three police were also killed yesterday, and 28 suffered wounds, according to the Interior Ministry.
Three months of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych had turned into a bloody carnage on the Maidan.
When I walked out into the Maidan, clad in a helmet and a flak jacket, I saw bodies lying on the pavement. Ten in one place, another six a short walk away, five more farther away. The demonstrators were killed with precise shots to their heads or necks, the hallmarks of snipers.
People were gathering around the dead, many of them weeping. Some covered the bodies with Ukrainian flags; others brought Orthodox icons. A priest conducted a remembrance service.
I felt a bit sick. Many of the victims were only in their 30s and 40s, full of energy just a few hours ago.
I kept asking myself: Why are they killing them? The protesters had no firearms that I could see, and snipers could have instead incapacitated them by shooting their feet or arms.
If the government had hoped that the killings would intimidate protesters and force them to leave the Maidan, it was clearly a miscalculation. The carnage only fueled anger and strengthened the demonstrators’ determination.