Ukrainian protesters find refuge from police in Kiev monastery

A wounded protester stands in front of St. Michael's cathedral with the European Union flag in Kiev November 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

A wounded protester stands in front of St. Michael’s cathedral with the European Union flag in Kiev November 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Thomas Grove – December 2013

(Reuters) – Around 100 Ukrainian pro-EU protesters took refuge from police batons and biting cold on Saturday inside the walls of a central Kiev monastery.

With a barricade of benches pushed up against a gate to keep police out, protesters – who had rallied against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to reject a pact with the European Union – checked their wounds in the pre-dawn light.

Some attended a 6 a.m. service in the lilac and gold St. Michael’s Cathedral on the monastery grounds after which a group of bearded, black-robed monks approached protesters to hear of their encounters with police and urge them not to seek revenge.

“They gave us tea to warm us up, told us to keep our spirits strong and told us not to fight evil with evil,” said Roman Tsado, 25, a native of Kiev, who said police beat him on his legs as they cleared the pro-EU rally.

“I don’t go to church much, only to escape from the powers of evil,” said Tsado, laughing.

The main protest, on Kiev’s central Independence Square, swelled on Friday evening to nearly 10,000 people as news spread of Yanukovich’s decision to orient Ukraine back towards former Soviet master Russia.

In the early hours of Saturday, police used batons and stun grenades to disperse the protest.

“This is the only safe place we have left, and besides I have nowhere else to go,” said Alexander Ananich, a 17-year-old student from the city of Lviv.

With police vans outside the monastery walls, it was unclear how long protesters would be able to remain.

Church representatives declined to comment.

The Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral, where the faithful light candles before gilded icons of saints, was destroyed during the religious purges of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt after independence.

At the main gate, volunteers, some elderly, handed out food to the mostly young protesters as they compared stories of the night’s violence.

With bandages around his head and dried blood on his black leather jacket, Ustim Kholodnyuk, 19, said he was knocked unconscious by police and managed to crawl out of the square on his hands and knees.

“People took me here in a taxi so at least I would be safe somewhere,” he said, church bells ringing as he spoke.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)