PORTLAND, Ore. – A Portland man working as a journalist in Kiev said the last 24 hours of violence in the Ukrainian capital Thursday have been a surreal and sobering experience.
Christopher Miller, 30, was born and raised in the Portland area. He said even though a relative calm had fallen over the city, he believed there might not be an end to the violence any time soon.
Miller was in Independence Square Wednesday, the epicenter of three long months of demonstrations against the government, covering the events as an editor for The Kyiv Post as fresh violence in the capital erupted only hours after the Ukrainian government and a pro-Western opposition movement had declared a truce.
“It’s really hard to describe what it feels like to have bullets pass by you and to be surrounded by tear gas and a ring of fire,” Miller told KGW via Skype. “I saw several people around me get hit. One man next to me was shot. I followed him as he was carried to the medical tent. He left a trail of blood 50 meters long and was pronounced dead on the scene.”
As a teenager at Gresham High School, few things could have prepared Miller for the carnage and human misery he would witness years later as a journalist covering the civil unrest in Kiev, Ukraine.
Miller graduated from Gresham High School and Portland State University and was a reporter for papers like the Statesman Journal and the Wall Street Journal before he joined the Peace Corps in 2010 in hopes of taking his life in a new direction.
“They were originally going to send me to Africa,” Miller said. “But at the last minute they switched me to Ukraine.”
He’s been in Ukraine ever since.
Eventually, Miller returned to journalism and for the last 13 months he’s been working at the English language publication the Kiev Post, as well as serving as a correspondent for sites like Mashable and Global Post.
The last four months, however, have been the most harrowing of his career. The recent violence that has broken out in Ukraine in the last 24 hours has been the worst, he said.
After a short truce between protesters and with the Kremlin-aligned Government of President Viktor Yanukovych, fresh violence broke out Thursday. Armed police and protesters violently clashed in the streets as street barricades burned and protesters stormed government buildings.
Video footage on Ukrainian television shows disturbing footage of protesters being cut down by gunfire before falling to the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters are seen carrying bodies away on sheets of plastic or planks of wood.
Miller said members of the media have been targeted by government snipers and more than a dozen have been wound.
“Being on the square is putting your life at risk,” he said.
Miller personally toured medical facilities to gain accurate body counts from the day’s mayhem. He estimated 30 dead, but the most recent media reports put the death toll as high as 60.
Miller also witnessed 60 police officers who were marched into the Energy Company of Ukraine building off Independence Square as prisoners of the opposition.
“The commandant told me their release was dependent on Parliament’s vote,” Miller said.
As the evening fell Thursday, Miller reported a new truce with the Government had been declared.
Parliament ordered police to pull back, Miller said.
“There is relative calm on the square but it is still tense,” Miller said. “The more militant groups are still fortifying barricades, making Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices.”
Miller couldn’t speculate on whether the current state of peace would last long. But, he said he hoped the turmoil would eventually pass and that he looked forward to seeing his family and wife who are in Portland.
“It’s surreal,” Miller said. “It’s not your job to get emotionally involved. That will come a little bit later.”