A violent brawl broke out during a session of Ukrainian parliament on Thursday over a proposed bill that would make Russian an official language in the country's already Russian-speaking regions.
Lawmakers threw punches and pulled each other over banisters, while opposition MP Mykola Petruk, who is part of jailed ex-Prime Minster Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, was hospitalized after a blow to the head. The fight forced parliament speaker Volodymyr Liyvyn to close the session without a vote.
The proposed law would make Russian equal to Ukrainian in civic institutions like schools, hospitals and courts in eastern and southern regions of the country where Russian is already the majority-spoken language. Critics say that the bill will divide the country, while others suggest that it threatens the Ukrainian language, the BBC reported.
Tymoshenko said in a prepared statement that the bill would continue Tsarist and Soviet policies, undermining Ukrainian sovereignty.
Ukrainian political parties are often defined by their relationship with Russia, and pro- and anti-Kremlin groups are regularly at odds. Indeed, the fight over the bill was about more than just language,and can be seen as a continuation of the battle between President Viktor Yanukovych, who supports the bill, and pro-West parties.
Fights have broken out in parliament sporadically during the three years that Yanukovych has been in office. In 2010, opposition legislators threw smoke bombs and Litvyn was pelted with eggs during a debate over the renewed lease on Sevastopol, a Russian naval base on Ukrainian territory.
As the fight broke out on Thursday, one parliamentarian shouted in Russian, that in Ukraine, thanks to leaders like this, the level of corruption, racism and xenophobia is growing.
What we see today is the problem that our current government cannot solve or deal with ... I believe that we can prove to the citizens ... that we are true people.
It is unclear if the leader he refers to is house chairman Lytvyn, to whom the MP is addressing his tirade, or President Yanukovych.
On Friday, opposition members piled chairs in front of the speakers podium to physically prevent a debate on the bill to continue.