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Ukraine Activists Charge Police Beat And Even Kill Protesters


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, with Renee Montagne.

Ukraine's parliament tried last night to defuse the country's protests. The parliament offered amnesty for demonstrators who are in jail, but only if the demonstrators who are still free agree to leave buildings they're occupying. Opposition leaders said no. They want unconditional amnesty for those arrested. More important, they want the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych. His government is accused of using both arrests and brutality.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Tetyana Chornovil is a journalist and opposition activist who makes a specialty of investigating top Ukrainian officials and the sources of their wealth. She'd just completed one of those stories last month when a group of thugs, riding in a Porsche SUV, forced her car off the road, dragged her out, beat her senseless, and left her in a ditch to freeze. She survived, and photographs of her swollen and battered face went viral on the Ukrainian Internet.

TETYANA CHORNOVIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: These days, she is campaigning against what she says is the government's brutal effort to suppress dissent, using police and goons in civilian clothes.

She's a slender woman who looks younger than her 34 years. The only visible remnant of her beating a month ago is a splint taped across the bridge of her nose.

CHORNOVIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: She introduces a man whose injuries are fresh, a ragged head wound stitched up on a shaved section of his scalp and two swollen black eyes. She describes how they ran into a squad of pro-government thugs in a town outside Kiev.

OLEG SOBCHENKO: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Oleg Sobchenko says he was beaten by the thugs, who then turned him over to the Berkut, the feared Ukrainian riot police, who tortured him. He says he wound up in a local hospital, but that his friends spirited him away as soon as possible, so as to keep the police from catching him again.

Kiev's hospitals have turned out to be dangerous places, says Inna Sovsun. She heads an ad-hoc group that helps monitor the fate of protesters who need medical care.

INNA SOVSUN: Our volunteers, who stay in the hospitals, they need to make sure that people who are taken to the hospitals, that they are not kept by the police before they receive proper health care.

FLINTOFF: She says police have arrested badly injured protesters and dragged them out of hospitals, over the objections of the doctors who were treating them. Sovsun cites a more sinister case, where thugs kidnapped two activists from a local hospital.

SOVSUN: They were taken away by unknown people, still unidentified. And Igor was found 24 hours after that, somewhere outside of Kiev. Another person, Yuri Verbizki, was found dead.

FLINTOFF: Igor Luzenko is recovering from his injuries. Yuri Verbizki, a 50-year-old seismologist, was found with his hands taped behind his back and his body showing signs of torture. Doctors determined that he died from exposure, left to freeze to death.

Sovsun says her volunteers try to make sure that patients don't disappear. Sometimes, she says, they alert injured people to stay away when there are police in the building. But that can mean that Ukraine's opposition activists aren't getting medical treatment because they're afraid a hospital visit might trigger unwelcome visit from the police.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.