Geopolitics

Kiev's Bloodiest Day, After Truce Crumbles

Kiev's Bloodiest Day, After Truce Crumbles

KIEV — After a brief respite in clashes, the Ukraine capital exploded again Thursday, with scenes of urban warfare and photographs of corpses lining Kiev's central square.

Death tolls Thursday range from several dozen to more than 100 victims, according to various sources. Hundreds of injured were also reported as videos and testimonies of snipers allegedly firing live rounds at demonstrators have appeared.

After a truce broke down after less than a day, most sources confirm that Thursday has been the bloodiest day in the months-long showdown between the pro-Russia government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and protesters who favor closer ties with the European Union.

Multiple witnesses in Kiev report demonstrators dead from single gunshot wounds, typical of snipers. This video published in the morning by Euronews shows protesters being shot at in front of Hotel Ukraina:

Meanwhile, clashes sparked on the edge of the Independence Square between anti-government protestors and government security forces, according to RFE/RL:

Photographs of dead bodies strewn along the streets emerged during the day, as death tolls kept rising:

Photo: David Blair (via Twitter)

Le Monde journalist Piotr Smolar reported Maidan protestors had "captured 9 militiamen".

— piotr smolar (@piosmo) 20 Février 2014

Buildings around the square were being occupied and used as shelters and makeshift hospitals for the protestors. Volunteers are also said to be providing medical care to the injured:

Photo: Olaf Koens (via Twitter)

Earlier, a 21 year old volunteer nurse, who was allegedly wounded at the neck by a gunshot, tweeted "I'm dying" while receiving first aid.

— Olesya Zhukovskaya (@OlesyaZhukovska) 20 Février 2014

It was later reported the young woman had survived after undergoing an operation.

— Vitalii Sediuk (@VitaliiSediuk) 20 Février 2014


For the latest updates on the situation in Ukraine, follow The Interpreter's liveblog.


Alongside the bloodshed, the former pro-government mayor of Kiev, Halyna Hereha, resigned from the ruling party and joined the protestors, according to reports.

— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) 20 Février 2014

Three European Union foreign ministers, including France's Laurent Fabius, have held five hours of talks with President Viktor Yanukovych throughout the day. After a first warning yesterday, Fabius reiterated Thursday the threat of E.U. sanctions towards the Ukrainian government. On Twitter, he said the sanctions would include "cancelling visas", the "surveillance" and the "freezing of assets of a certain number of government officials".

— Laurent Fabius (@LaurentFabius) 20 Février 2014

Meanwhile, the White House also expressed its concern towards the deadly violence that shook the Ukrainian capital Thursday.

— @NSCPress (@NSCPress) 20 Février 2014

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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