Violent protests broke out today outside of the parliament building in Kiev after deputies voted against recognizing the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, a World War II partisan group, as national heroes.
Thousands gathered in Kiev on Tuesday for a rally honoring the anniversary of the group's formation 72 years ago. The nationalist paramilitary force was founded in 1942 and fought for Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union, but its legacy was tainted by its collaboration with the Nazis.
The anniversary event spiraled into violence when news broke that parliament had rejected a law to celebrate the group. A handful of demonstrators surged towards police lines, and according to Associated Press and Reuters the aggressors used air guns to blow out parliament's windows and hurled smoke bombs.
At least one explosive petrol device was reportedly thrown during the assault. Masked men wielded makeshift weapons, including a chain used as a whip, and exchanged blows with riot police. Ukraine's Interior Ministry has said 36 people were detained for their involvement in the clash.
In addition to the blue and yellow Ukraine flag, many of the event's attendees waved the flag of the far-right nationalist party Svoboda and the red and black flag of Right Sector, a semi-paramilitarized political group with alleged ties to Neo-Nazism. Representatives of both groups, however, denied that their members were behind the violence.
With less than two weeks to go until the parliamentary election, Tuesday's events will likely put pressure on Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, whose newly formed, self-named block is ahead in the polls at around 26 percent. But with polls showing up to 39 percent of voters say they haven't decided how to vote, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc is not yet guaranteed to secure a clear majority.
Poroshenko, an oligarch nicknamed the 'Chocolate King' due to his substantial investments in the confectionary industry, has faced criticism over his handling of the conflict in Ukraine's east, which has killed more than 3,500 people — including at least 900 Ukrainian soldiers — since fighting broke out in mid-April.
Despite a ceasefire agreed upon by all the warring parties on September 5 in Minsk, violence has continued to flare up in flashpoints across the country's east, most notably around Donetsk airport where battles still rage on a daily basis. At least 50 Ukrainian troops have been killed since the peace deal came into effect and the United Nations has reported a monthly average of 10 people dying each day in the region due to the conflict.
Today's violence outside the parliament building, however, overshadowed significant progress made inside earlier in the day when deputies voted in favor of a far-reaching package of laws aimed at tackling the country's endemic corruption and curtailing Soviet-era powers to monitor political activities of opposition groups.
The laws, which have been sought by the European Union, will reform the General Prosecutor's Office — long used as a means to crackdown on political opponents in Ukraine — and target high-level corruption by forcing government judiciary and legal officials to declare their own assets, as well as their family members assets and financial transactions. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk declared the passage of the legislation the "end of the offshore era" while Poroshenko called it a vital step in tackling "a cancerous tumor which eats away at our society."