This was the key moment that turned the tide in Ukraine

The face of victory.
The face of victory.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kravchenko
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Reportedly blocked trying to fly to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych is finished as Ukrainian president. After three months of protests, the final turning point leading to his demise appears to have been a grisly chunk of minutes at dawn on Feb. 20.

The big picture was that, on Feb. 19, Yanukovych’s police had moved ferociously against opposition protesters, pushing back their positions and capturing much of Independence Square. Many thought the police would finish off the opposition the next morning.

Versions differ on what happened around dawn Feb. 20, but riot police and possibly snipers appear to have begun to fire shots at the remnants of the stubborn opposition, still numbering in the thousands and hiding behind barricades they had set aflame to protect themselves.

At this point, a gap opened in the opposition barricades, and out poured “young men in ski masks,” who sprinted a hundred yards across the square toward the police lines against a hail of fire. As they ran, many were mowed down—perhaps two dozen. But many of them also reached the startled police lines, broke through, and viciously attacked.

In the subsequent minutes and hours, the opposition re-occupied government buildings, captured dozens of police, and recaptured the whole of the square. But in doing so, the day became among the bloodiest in former Soviet history—in all, some 70 opposition and police died.

The following day, Yanukovych agreed to early elections, to weakened powers, and to share power with the opposition. But today, the deal fell apart because the deal’s signatories—Yanukovych, three opposition leaders and European diplomats—neglected to check with the street first.

The New York Times’ Andrew Kramer interviewed a classical violinist named Dmitry Iliuk, who was among the youths who turned the tide. “He was wearing a red ski helmet and ski goggles, and carrying a baseball bat attached to a cord looped around his wrist, lest it be knocked out of his hands,” Kramer wrote.

“There was just one idea in my head: ‘Run forward,’” Iliuk said. He went on, “All around me, people were wounded because the police had nothing left to do but shoot, and they shot.”