TIME Ukraine

Guns and Roses: Kiev in Mid-Revolution

The Maidan: Kiev's Independence Square, March 6, 2014.
The Maidan: Kiev's Independence Square, March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

Flowers, karaoke and masked soldiers in a visit to Ukraine's capital

In Kiev’s Independence Square, the aftermath of a bloody revolution has left behind a strange beauty. Red roses adorn piles of charred black tires. A rainbow of votive candles lay before heaps of rusted metal, burnt wood, and other debris—remnants of barriers built by anti-government protesters against thuggish security forces. Beneath a lamp post punctured by bullet holes—snipers—lies the photo of a smiling young man and a splendid pile of flowers in his memory. In an auditorium at Kiev’s city hall, now manned round-the-clock by activists who feel their work remains incomplete, a young man in a bulletproof vest plays a gentle classical piece on a white piano.

An activist wearing a bulletproof vest plays piano at Kiev's city hall, March 6, 2014.
An activist wearing a bulletproof vest plays piano at Kiev’s city hall, March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

These contrasts also stand in for Ukraine’s political reality, now a mix of wreckage and blooming hope three weeks after massive protests overthrow an authoritarian president who had spurned Europe for Russia’s orbit. An interim government has now replaced the reputedly corrupt Viktor Yanukovych, and elections are scheduled for May. But the economy is in crisis and the parliament is still packed with dubious characters. Talk of war hangs in the air like the smoke from the barrel fires warming the activists and self-defense volunteers still camped on the square, who say their work is unfinished. Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized the Crimean peninsula, and may have designs on other parts of Ukraine’s pro-Russian east. Kiev’s anxious residents are left to wonder whether their future holds more flames than flowers.

Flowers memorialize the dead at the square's independence monument. March 6, 2014.
Flowers memorialize the dead at the square’s independence monument. March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

Elena, as we’ll call her, is a 25-year-old lawyer here. She grew up in the pro-Russian east but studied in the UK on a scholarship. Smartly dressed in a grey tweed jacket and black-framed glasses, Elena estimates that she filled two dozen Molotov cocktails during the protests. She also volunteered in a makeshift hospital, witnessing injuries like she’d never seen before.

Elena never imagined that Ukraine’s fate could grow so precarious. “I never thought I would wake up every day happy just that there is no war,” she says. Things she’s always taken for granted—Internet service, electricity, basic security—now all seem contingent on Putin’s unknown intentions.

“You know, when people are crazy you are not sure what they will do,” says Anna Shyshko, a 30 year old legal secretary smoking a cigarette on the square one recent afternoon. She hopes that the West will take more decisive action than it did as protesters were being gunned down last month.

“On Facebook all the time they’re saying the U.S. and European Union worried much too long,” she says. “While they were shooting people, [the West was] saying that they are worried about our country. But it took too long.”

For now, Kiev is mostly peaceful, a seemingly happy European city. Coffee booths are plentiful on the streets. The downtown Porsche dealership is still open, as is a men’s luxury clothing store named Billionaire—destinations, perhaps, for Yanukovych’s oligarch allies. At an upscale karaoke bar, party people smoked hookahs and belted out maudlin ballads into the small hours.

"Self-defense" volunteers patrol near the Maidan, March 6, 2014.
“Self-defense” volunteers patrol near the Maidan, March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

But some here seem girded for more fighting. Around the square, known here as the Maidan, men in camouflage uniforms who describe themselves as self-defense forces are camped out in dozens of tents. Some fly the red and black flag of the Ukrainian People’s Army, a World War II-era anti-Soviet partisan force; it’s a common sign of affiliation with the modern nationalist, far-right Pravy Sector. (The UPA’s alliance with the Nazis remains a subject of intense debate.) After midnight a few nights ago, a pair of young men with mohawks patrolled a main street with baseball bats; they identified themselves as members of Spilna Sprava, another right-wing nationalist group.

On a rise above the square lay a pair of overturned burnt-out vehicles that likely belonged to the now-vanquished Berkut security forces. “Have You Seen This Man?” asks a sign taped to one of them. But there is no way to tell: the man’s photo has been torn out. Next to the empty space someone has scrawled the word ANIMAL.

Poster taped to a scorched bus near the Maidan square, in Kiev, March 6, 2014.
Poster taped to a scorched bus near the Maidan square, in Kiev, March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

A short walk from the Maidan to the Dnipro river bank offered more unsettling sights. Crates of Molotov cocktails fashioned from beer bottles lay unattended near the National Philharmonic Building. In a grand park overlooking the river, access to a large Soviet-era monument to the unity of Ukraine and Russia has been barricaded— presumably to prevent defacement of a statue representing an ideal that many here now despise.

A few hundred yards away towers Vladimir. Not Putin, but Vladimir the Great, a local ruler who Christianized the region a thousand years ago. (This was after he rejected Islam, in part, because it forbids drinking: “We cannot exist without that pleasure,” he allegedly declared.)

Behind the statue is a well-kept, tree-lined public park, where the other Vladimir’s shadow loomed. A group of perhaps two dozen men in makeshift paramilitary uniforms were training here for combat. Some concealed their faces behind balaclavas; several wore scarves in the UPA’s red and black. One group practiced hand-to-hand fighting—faux punches, arm twists, leg sweeps. Another, wielding what appeared to be fake wooden pistols and rifles, took positions behind trees. They would duck out, then quickly swerve back again, taking shots at their imaginary enemy.

Volunteers train for combat in Kiev's Vladimirskaya Gorka park, March 6, 2014.
Volunteers train for combat in Kiev’s Vladimirskaya Gorka park, March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

None spoke English. One man in a balaclava insisted that a reporter stop taking photographs. Two others encouraged more pictures, and the three fell into a squabble. Meanwhile, a young couple out for a walk in the park pushed a stroller past the men practicing hand to hand combat. The trainees politely stood aside as the infant rolled by.

So it goes in these strange days of Kiev’s unfinished revolution.

Roses adorn a barricade in the Maidan square, March 6, 2014.
Roses adorn a barricade in the Maidan square, March 6, 2014. Michael Crowley—TIME

Russia Warned It Could Face Jihadi Attacks Over Crimea

Some militant Tartars may be prepared to fight Russia over potential annexation of Crimea, warn local leaders

A senior Crimean Tartar leader has warned that Russia risks provoking jihadi attacks if it annexes Crimea.

In an interview with the Financial Times on Sunday, Mustafa Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said a number of militant Tartars had approached him to say they would fight the Russians. “We can’t stop people who want to die with honor,” said Jemilev, who reportedly made clear that he himself did not endorse a jihadi campaign.

A referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia is set to take place in March, triggered by Russia’s occupation of the peninsula earlier this month. Crimean Tartars, a Muslim minority group who make up roughly 12 per cent of the region’s population, are largely in favour of remaining part of Ukraine. Their opposition is rooted in a long history of persecution under previous Russian rule.

Jemilven said he and other Tartar leaders are reluctant to believe the reassurances from Crimea’s pro-Russian leaders, including offers of senior government positions for members of the community. “This agreement is not worth the paper it’s written on. Everything can change tomorrow.”



Oscar Pistorius Vomits in Court

Pistorius arrives in court ahead of his trial in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius arrives in court ahead of his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria Mar. 3, 2014 Reuters

Olympian athlete and murder suspect retches during graphic testimony about Reeva Steenkamp's autopsy

Olympian amputee and murder suspect Oscar Pistorius may have vomited in court Monday during testimony about the autopsy of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, whom he fatally shot early on Valentines Day 2013.

Despite a judge’s ban on broadcasting or tweeting from the courtroom, many journalists tweeted that Pistorius retched and was physically sick after the graphic description of Steenkamp’s postmortem examination.

Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a bathroom door, and she died of multiple gunshot wounds. Pistorius says he fired because he thought there was an intruder in the house, and that he was trying to protect Steenkamp. Prosecutors say Pistorius shot Steenkamp during a heated argument, and neighbors have testified that they heard the couple fighting that night. The trial continues.



Prince Harry Could Soon Be A Bachelor No More

Royal-watchers in UK speculate about wedding bells as prince repeatedly appears in public with girlfriend Cressida Bonas

Prince Harry was seen in public with his girlfriend for the second time in three days Sunday, fueling speculation that the party-loving prince might soon be a bachelor no more.

The prince and his partner Cressida Bonas have been dating for two years and had previously tried to avoid the media spotlight. However the couple attended a rugby match together at London’s Twickenham Stadium, a public show of affection that has sparked rumors of another royal wedding on the horizon, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Expectations of an engagement have increased as Prince Harry, 29, nears the end of his twenties. Most members of the royal family were already married by that age. The presence of Bonas, 24, at official engagements with the prince has been seen as a sign that the couple feel more confident in their relationship. Bonas, an aristocrat’s daughter, studied dance at Leeds University and now works in marketing in London.

When he had previously talked about finding a girlfriend who could withstand the pressures of being with a member of the Royal Family, Prince Harry said that he was “not so much searching for someone to fulfill the role, but obviously finding someone that would be willing to take it on.”

TIME Syria

Study: Syria’s Children Suffering ‘Barbaric’ Lack Of Medical Care

A wounded child is treated in a make shift hospital in Aleppo after her home was randomly targeted by the regime's artillery, on March 15, 2013.
A wounded child is treated in a make shift hospital in Aleppo after her home was randomly targeted by the regime's artillery, on March 15, 2013. Sebastiano Tomada—SIPA USA/AP

A new report by Save the Children New warns that children in Syria are dying from treatable or preventable diseases that have metastasized in the country during the civil war, which is about to enter its fourth year

As Syria’s civil war enters its fourth year, a new report from global children’s advocacy group Save The Children has detailed how 10,000 children have died not just as a result of the fighting, but also from treatable or preventable diseases that have metastasized in the country.

Save the Children, in its report “A Devastating Toll” published on Sunday, details the consequences of Syria’s collapsed health care system. Among the revelations are that children are having limbs amputated because clinics don’t have the right equipment for treatment, newborn babies are dying in incubators during power cuts and patients are being knocked out with metal bars because of the lack of anesthesia.

“Children inside are enduring barbaric conditions,” says Save the Children’s regional director, Roger Hearn. “The desperate measures to which medical personnel are resorting to to keep children alive are increasingly harrowing.”

The report notes the reemergence of deadly and previously easily treatable diseases such as polio and diarrhea that are now silently spreading across the country, where 60% of hospitals are either damaged or destroyed. Some 200,000 Syrians have died of treatable chronic diseases like diabetes—double the estimated numbers of those killed by violence.

The group, which drew its findings from data issued by organizations such as the United Nations and World Health Organization, says over 5 million Syrian children are in need of basics such as food and adequate health care.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Elections: A Sham Worth Studying

North Korean voters line up to cast their ballots to elect deputies for the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang on March 9, 2014
North Korean voters line up to cast their ballots to elect deputies for the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang on March 9, 2014 Jon Chol Jin—AP

The stranger-than-fiction vote offers few surprises—100 percent of eligible balloters favored only the pre-determined politicians—but the once-every-five-years election provides a better sense of how North Korea is run

Kim wins. That is the unsurprising outcome of North Korea’s first legislative elections under the leadership of young dictator Kim Jong Un. State media report that nearly 100% of eligible North Koreans voted in Sunday’s poll, and 100% of them cast votes in favor of the status quo. This is only partly as ridiculous as it sounds: voting is mandatory and there is one option on the ballot.

Indeed, when North Korea votes, it votes. When exactly 100% of eligible North Korean set out to cast votes 100% in favor of predetermined politicians, they were carried forth on “billows of emotion and happiness,” state media reported. And nowhere were they happier — or more billowy, presumably — that in Kim’s district, Mount Paektu, the Korean peninsula’s highest peak. The group that voted at the storied site were so moved by the exercise that they spontaneously burst into song, state media said.

It is easy to chuckle at the thought of the country’s khaki-clad officials being overcome by the joy of casting a ballot. (If only the U.S. primaries could be such fun.) But as much as the elections are a sham, they are a sham worth studying. This stranger-than-fiction display gives us a better sense of how the country is run.

The once-every-five-year vote is an important exercise in political propaganda. Take Kim’s district. Mount Paektu is North Korea’s holy land. It was where his grandfather Kim Il Sung and a small group of his associates are said to have repelled the Japanese. It was also where Kim Il Sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born. Kim Jong Un’s right to rule is based on his link to the “Paektu bloodline” — and to the mythology of the mountain itself.

The vote also serves practical purposes. Forcing 100% of eligible North Koreans to vote every five years is a way for the government to keep tabs on the population. North Korean defectors report that vote acts as an informal census, with neighborhood committees, called inminban, closely monitoring who shows up and who doesn’t. Since a single person’s absence could cast suspicion on an entire clan, people working, say, near or across the Chinese border, make a point of returning to their hometowns to cast their votes.

The polls also no doubt gave Kim Jong Un a chance to shape the parliament. Though it is largely a symbolic body (it generally meets once a year), North Korea watchers will be studying the poll to glean information about how power is being distributed under the young dictator. Kim Jong Un has already purged several of his father’s allies and promoted younger cadres. Will he continue to bolster this next generation of leaders?

It seems so. Kim Jong Un used Election Day to give his sister, Kim Yo Jong, some airtime. Kim Yo Jong, who is believed to be 26, was filmed accompanying her brother to vote. Though she has been seen in public before, most notably at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, this was a relatively high-profile outing. Conspicuously absent, meanwhile, was Kim Kyong Hui, sister to Kim Jong Il, aunt to Kim Jong Un and wife of ousted official Jang Song Thaek. She has not been seen since her husband’s execution.

Given the tightly scripted nature of North Korean political theater, the optics are probably not an accident. For those not distracted by the song and dance, the message is clear: there is a new sister on the scene. And Mount Paektu’s third generation is now running the show.


Australian Charged After Trying to Drop Drugs Into Prison by Drone

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Richard Newstead - Getty Images/Flickr RM

Remote controlled escapade leads to multiple indictments

Australian police are holding a 28-year-old man in custody for allegedly using a remote control drone carrying illicit drugs over a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of Melbourne, according to the Herald Sun.

Police were called to the prison on Sunday afternoon after the unmanned craft was seen hovering over the facility. The male suspect and an unidentified female were later found on a nearby road with a drone and “a small quantity of drugs.”

Authorities are reportedly charging the suspect with “attempting to commit an indictable offense and possessing a drug of dependence.”

Sunday’s incident in Australia mirrored a similar event on the other side of the Pacific, where a remote controlled helicopter was used to drop 250 grams of cocaine into a corrections facility near Sao Paulo, Brazil.

[Herald Sun]


Maldives Supreme Court Hits Entire Election Commission with Jail Terms

Maldives Election Commissioner Thowfeek speaks during a news conference in Male
Maldives Election Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek speaks during a news conference in Male, October 18, 2013. Dinuka Liyanawatte—Reuters

The island nation’s highest court says body ‘disobeyed orders’

Two weeks before polling stations open in Maldives, all four members of the country’s Election Commission are set to spend the next six months behind bars following a ruling from the nation’s highest court.

According to the BBC, the Supreme Court was effectively able to play prosecutor, judge and jury during the trial in accordance with a new sweeping rule that expands judicial powers.

The ruling is the latest in a series of tit-for-tat exchanges between the Supreme Court and the commission.

Last October, Fuwad Thowfeek, the head of the commission, set his sights on the court and unleashed harsh criticism after the body annulled a presidential election that had been given the green light by independent observers.

Police prevented the commission on two separate occasions from holding run-off votes. Parliamentary elections are still set to commence on March 22.



Al-Qaeda Unveils English-Language Terror Magazine

Ayman al-Zawahiri

The terrorist organization's first English-language Web magazine is introduced with an online video and will be called 'Resurgence'

Al-Qaeda’s media wing has announced the upcoming launch of Resurgence, a terror magazine for English-speakers.

NBC News reports the video announcement spliced snippets of Malcolm X’s 1965 speech on violent resistance with images of militants, U.S. soldiers and the Boston Marathon bombings.

It’s not the first such publication to hit the market. The Boston marathon bombers allegedly lifted bomb-making recipes from a similar magazine, ‘Inspire,’ by an al-Qaeda splinter group in the Arabian Peninsula. Analysts said the launch marks an attempt by the parent organization—decimated by drone strikes—to reestablish control over global messaging and recruitment.

[NBC News]


As Hope Disappears, Families of Missing Jet Passengers Crave Answers

A family member of one of the passengers aboard a missing plane is consoled by a crisis counselor at a hotel in Putrjaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, on March 9, 2014.
A family member of one of the passengers aboard a missing plane is consoled by a crisis counselor at a hotel in Putrjaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, on March 9, 2014. Joshua Paul—NurPhoto/Corbis

More than 60 hours after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished with 239 people on board, no trace of the airplane has yet been found

“Have hope,” reads the sign Joseph Koh brought to Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Sunday. Made in haste to support families of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there was little else he could think to say.

More than two days after the Boeing 777-200 disappeared from the screens of air-traffic controllers over Southeast Asia, precious few hard facts have emerged about its fate. “Everyone’s waiting for crucial answers,” said Koh’s friend Joelin Lim, who joined for the 50-minute drive to the terminal. “This is such a hard situation for the families.”

Unlike most other bereaved relatives lodged at the Everly Putrajaya hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Selamat Omar takes some time to talk to the gathered horde of journalists.

“The authorities have treated us really well,” says the 60-year-old. “They give us food, a place to stay and counseling. They update us with any news.”

Selamat’s son, aircraft engineer Mohd. Khairul Amri Selamat, 27, was one of the 239 people aboard the plane on his way to Beijing for work. By now the sense of loss has already sunk in. “My only hope now is to see my son, in any condition,” he says. “I just want to find out what happened.”

The vast search-and-rescue operation expanded on Monday to involve 34 aircraft and 40 vessels from nine countries. A late-Sunday sighting in Vietnam of an object suspiciously similar to the inner part of a jetliner door arose hopes, but those were quashed by Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, at a press conference on Monday.

“It has now gone 60 hours and unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we haven’t found anything that appears to be an object from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” Azharuddin said. “Our hearts go out to the next of kin of the passengers.”

Two oil slicks discovered on Saturday were considered a possible clue to the airplane’s whereabouts, but those too have turned out to be a dead end. A Malaysian official said Monday that the oil slicks were not from Flight MA 370.

Authorities have no other option but to scan the ocean, unable to exclude any theory as to what happened. “The Prime Minister used the word perplexing and we’re equally puzzled,” said Azharuddin. “We need parts of the aircraft to analyze, to do a forensics study.”

Other than the South China Sea, the search continues in the Strait of Malacca, working on the assumption that the aircraft may have attempted to turn back to Kuala Lumpur. Despite the lack of any distress signal, theories of a possible hijacking cannot be discounted. Rumors surrounding the two passengers traveling on stolen passports were further stoked late Sunday, when Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told national news agency Bernama that an internal probe would be launched into how fraudulent documents were used to board the plane.

The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, confirmed that the two passports were recorded in its database as lost or stolen. The tickets were bought from China Southern Airlines — operating a code share with Malaysia Airlines — in local currency at Thailand’s resort town of Pattaya the day before the flight, reports the Associated Press. (Both documents had earlier been reported stolen in Thailand.)

The route — from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam via Beijing, and then the Italian passport on to Copenhagen and the Austrian passport on to Frankfurt — has also raised eyebrows. Security analysts point to the lack of visa requirements for stopovers in the Chinese capital less than 72 hours as possibly holding significance.

Azharuddin said authorities were going through “all records” of the two men. Five passengers who were previously suspected since they never made the flight are no longer under investigation, however, as their baggage was unloaded before the plane took off.

“We’re looking at every angle and aspect, we will double-check, we will comb [the sea] so that we don’t miss anything,” Azharuddin said. “We are as eager as you to get answers.”

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