In a terrible tragedy on Monday, March 16, an armored vehicle ran onto a sidewalk in the eastern Ukrainian town of Konstantinovka, hitting three pedestrians. An eight-year old girl named Polina was killed immediately, while her aunt and infant cousin were rushed to a hospital.
Ukrainian soldiers, rumored to have been drunk, were behind the wheel of the armored vehicle involved in the accident. Konstantinovka, one of the initial centers of the rebellion in the Donbass, was controlled for several months by the Donetsk People's Republic before being retaken by Kyiv in July 2014.
Константиновка ДТП Сегодня Ребенок 8 лет погиб, мать жива в реанимации. pic.twitter.com/UZeOErr3Kh
— Спутник АТО (@SputnikATO) March 16, 2015
An accident in Konstantinovka today. An 8-year-old died. The mother [sic] is in intensive care.
Responding to news of the tragedy, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko stated:
Это дело находится на личном контроле Главного военного прокурора и президента Украины. Командование Вооруженных сил Украины выражает глубокие соболезнования пострадавшим гражданам и уверяет, что виновные в этой трагедии будут наказаны — как сами военнослужащие, так и их командиры.
This case has been taken under the personal control of the Chief Military Prosecutor and the President of Ukraine. The leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine expresses its deepest condolences to the victims and guarantees that those responsible for this tragedy will be punished—both the soldiers themselves and their commanders.
Upset and angry locals in Konstantinovka decided to dispense their own form of justice, however.
A crowd gathered at the site of the accident and then outside the school building being used as an army barracks, shouting and cursing, throwing stones, flipping and torching cars, and setting the building's entrance on fire.
— Ukrainian Mistress (@JuMistress) March 16, 2015
Seemingly spooked by the unrest, Ukrainian lawmaker and law enforcement advisor Anton Gerashchenko issued a severe warning to the rioters:
Если кто-то в Константиновке с оружием в руках выступит против законов украинской власти, используя данное ДТП для массовых столкновений, то сначала будет сделан один предупредительный выстрел, а потом будет стрельба на поражение. Если не будет времени предупредить — будет стрельба на поражение сразу же. Никому не позволено подрывать украинскую власть с оружием в руках на территории Украины. Все необходимые действия, подкрепления, приказы в Константиновку направлены, там ситуация будет нормализована и в дальнейшем будет оставаться такой же.
If anyone in Konstantinovka takes up arms to challenge law and order and the Ukrainian authorities, using this accident to incite popular unrest, then one warning shot will first be fired, and then the authorities will shoot to kill. If there is no time for a warning shot then authorities will shoot to kill immediately. No one will be allowed to take up arms against the Ukrainian government. All necessary actions, reinforcements, and orders have been sent to Konstantinovka, where the situation will be normalized and will remain normalized.
Predictably, interpretations of the events quickly broke down along political lines.
A Ukrainian law enforcement representative asked locals “not to succumb to the provocations of the separatists, who are using every opportunity to destabilize the situation in cities near the front lines,” while an RT headline screamed “Ukraine cops get ‘shoot-to-kill orders’ amid unrest over army hit & run killing of 8yo.”
Reports indicated that quiet had returned to the streets of Konstantinovka on Tuesday, and Donetsk Interior Ministry head Vyacheslav Abroskin wrote on Facebook that the two soldiers responsible for the accident had been detained and handed over to the military prosecutor.
Meanwhile, a funeral procession was held on Wednesday for Polina, as the conflict in eastern Ukraine claimed yet another victim.
(Update: A video originally included in this post (with audible gunfire, supposedly from security forces firing into the air to dispel the crowd in Konstantinovka on Monday night) has been removed. This video, already with over 122,000 views on YouTube and picked up by outlets such as RT, appears to actually be a misleading re-upload of a May 2014 video from Konstantinovka. Thanks to commenter Ivan Petrov for catching the mistake.)