The confrontation grew into a street battle overnight. Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at demonstrators, and deployed a water cannon to send continual streams downhill, where it froze in subzero temperatures and made the street slippery.
Demonstrators hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails, and continually stoked a fire of burning tires near the barricades to make it hard for police to see them. They filled bags with snow and piled them high as barricades.
Four days into this standoff, on Jan. 22, police attacked demonstrators during the pre-dawn hours. Shots were fired. At least two men died of gunshot wounds. Police mounted two more offensives throughout the day, injuring some 300 people who were hit with truncheons, fists and stun grenades by police.
The government has, throughout the protests, tried to discredit the people involved as radicals and “terrorists.” But although it does include extreme elements, EuroMaidan also has widespread support among large segments of the public, much of which has been outraged by the harsh tactics of the authorities.
Liudmila Lebed, 53, works the night shifts at a flour mill in Kyiv and spends her days at the protests. On the afternoon of Jan. 24, she and four men were shoveling snow and ice at Hrushevskoho Street, making a ditch so that the water from the police hose would go to the drainage.
“When women from my work heard about the protesters being killed, they all cried for the whole day,” she said. “I am here because this country must change. All the corruption, unfair trials, bribery, it all must go away.”
Svitlana Shcherban, 45, is a florist who took time off work from her home in eastern Ukraine to join the Kyiv protests.
“I just cannot live up with what is happening in my country. They beat people, they kill people, no matter who it is – a woman, a child or an old man. I just can no longer watch this violence.”
Nina Kyryliuk, a 63-year-old pensioner from Kyiv, said she is going to fight to the end to remove those in power.
“I am not afraid of anything,” she said. “Unless they make me an invalid, I don’t care. Death would be fine. If need to die for Ukraine, I will. Most of all I don’t want young people to die. I, at least, have lived a little. I picked my side, I understand that there are children on the other side of the barricades, but they seem to have become animals already.”
She believes that Yanukovich cannot be removed without bloodshed.
“There is no way back actually, after Nov. 30, when our children were beaten (by police). Now we cannot even think about way back. I even carry a little shovel with me everywhere now, so I can always help gathering snow for the barricades,” she laughs, pulling the instrument from her handbag.
Mykola Podrisan is 60 and disabled, getting around in a wheelchair.
“I am not afraid,” Podrisan said. “Scary is the fact that those beasts in uniforms are among us. I am a Kievan and how, just think, how is it possible that there are barricades in my home city and not from an enemy, from people who are supposed to protect us. I just pray there would be no more blood.”
Inna Taran is just 18 and already an active protester. She looked frustrated as she sat in a café on Independence Square, warming up after spending an afternoon at Hrushevskoho Street.
Her big hazel eyes filled with tears as she talked about how the protest has changed her.
“You know, my friends dreamed to go to Oxford or build a career and I’ve always just wanted a family and three children, and even thought of names for them. But they just ruined my dream on Nov. 30,” she said, referring to the first time police violently dispersed peaceful protesters from Independence Square.
Taran was among those beaten that night. After that she had to undergo surgery to remove part of one of her kidneys, due to the beating. “I still have another one, so I can afford being here,” she smiled bitterly.
Taran said she has been coming to the protest every day since she left the hospital. “God knows I have never hated anyone, but now I do and I do so hard,” she says.
The young woman believes that women should be standing in the front lines, and says she would do it herself.
“If I don’t get beaten, someone else will in my place," she said. "But what makes me better than anyone else at the fire line?”