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Opposition banners in Kiev gather various people for various reasons

December 16, 2013, 16:24 UTC+3 KIEV
The protest rally in Independence Square in central Kiev is entering a sluggish phase, having failed to fulfill any of the set tasks
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© EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

KIEV, December 16, 16:12 /ITAR-TASS/. Ukraine’s “quick revolution,” about which the opposition leaders have made loud statements, has failed. The protest rally in Independence Square in central Kiev is entering a sluggish phase, having failed to fulfill any of the set tasks.

Both the authorities and protest actions’ participants, whose groups are very heterogeneous, are currently involved in a “war of nerves.” The bulk of the protesters in Independence Square come from the western regions of Ukraine, mainly from the Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk and Ternopol regions. The “creative class” - students, businessmen, intellectuals - appear in the barricaded tent camp in Independence Square and Khreshchatik Street in the Ukrainian capital mostly after studies or work for a few hours.

And the main force in the square between large rallies is made up by the “westerners” (as residents of Western Ukraine are called here), which are additionally brought by the opposition to the city for a couple of days. Most of them have been brought by opposition parties or businessmen who are members of these parties. There are mostly rural people among them. During the winter season, there is almost no work in the village, so it is easy to persuade such people to take part in protest actions, promising them “a little money and meals.”

To the question much they are paid, residents of the tent camp answer reluctantly. “It’s enough to buy cigarettes. Also, we get meals here. So, I’ve fixed myself up a little bit,” said a rally participant from the Ternopol region Vasily, showing a second-hand jacket and winter boots, which he was given in the camp. “We are many here, because there’s nothing to do for us in the village at this time of the year. They promise us to pay here. They say they would give 150 hryvnia (about 20 U.S. dollars) per day, and so far pay 20 hryvnia (2.5 USD),” he continued. Vasily said he was rallying for the Batkivshchina (Fatherland) party and its leader Arseny Yatsenyuk. “And the guys from our neighboring village support the UDAR Party of Vitali Klitschko,” he said, adding: “It all depends on who pays.” Apparently, they have little interest in ideology. “The main thing for us is the signing of the agreement (on association) with the European Union. We would be able then to freely travel to Europe to work,” Vasily believes.

Asked whether he had heard a speech by Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov in the neighboring Europe Square, where a rally in support of the current government was held on Saturday, he said no. According to the country’s prime minister, Ukraine, even after the signing of an association agreement, “hasn’t got a chance of getting a visa-free regime soon.” Azarov said that Ukraine first needed to introduce biometric passports and legalise gay marriages. Vasily became thoughtful and went to tell his fellows “what the Europeans want to do with Ukrainians.” His friend Yevgeny stopped, saying he was “personally, for cooperation between Ukraine and Russia.” “I don’t want to Europe. But I support the opposition’s demand to conduct early parliamentary and presidential elections,” said Yevgeny, failing to explain why. “I’m just tired of this power. That’s all,” he said. “Look, representatives of Donetsk have occupied all the posts in the country, as if there are no smart people in other regions.”

In some cases, the protesters are left without payment. Recently, several dozen young people, demanding payment for the participation in a rally of supporters of European integration, picketed the office of UDAR Party of Vitali Klitschko.

One of the protesters told reporters that the party representatives had asked them to take part in a rally in Independence Square for a certain monetary remuneration. “We were promised 150 hryvnia for three hours, also were promised tea and that we would not be left hungry. We rallied for a few hours, but received no money,” a protester said.

But far from all go to the square “for the money.” Many protesters themselves contribute funds “to the common victory moneybox.” In less than a month, they have collected three million hryvnia (375 thousand U.S. dollars) in donations. Representatives of the “national resistance headquarters,” which are based in the House of Trade Unions in Independence Square, say they need money for food, tents, barrels for heating, toilets, generators, overnight accommodation, showers. Some of these needs are covered at the expense of Kiev residents. In particular, they provide free accommodation at their home to the protesters, organise the delivery of food, bring blankets and warm clothes, firewood.

Most people, experts say, came to rally because of the government’s decision to suspend the “European integration” and because of tough action of security forces against ·· protesters in the square on November 30. They felt betrayed. After all, the Ukrainian authorities during the whole years have been giving promises that at the Vilnius summit on November 28-29 they would sign an association agreement with the EU, but a week before the forum, the government suspended the process. The authorities explained this step by the economic plight, which did not allow the country to lose the Russian market and at the same time modernise the economy by European standards. People wondered whether the government was competent, if it found this out only when, figuratively speaking, it was getting on a plane to Vilnius.

The opposition took advantage of the situation, taking over the leadership of the European integration supporters, demanding the government’s resignation, early parliamentary and presidential elections, hoping “to come to power” on the protest rally wave. Arseny Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleg Tyagnibok put forward these demands as basic, forgetting that European politicians also demand the release of [Ukraine’s former Prime Minister] Yulia Timoshenko, who is serving a seven-year sentence.

There are students from some universities of Kiev, Lvov, Ternopol, Ivano-Frankovsk among the residents of the tent camp. They are trying to stay away from politics. “These three opposition leaders (Yatsenyuk, Klitschko and Tyagnibok) stand on the stage, and none of them realises that people have come to the Maidan (city square) not because of them, but because all are already sick and tired of corrupt officials, lawlessness of the police and the judicial system. The authorities went too far when the police used force to disperse the European integration supporters in Independence Square. The country needs change, but this trio cannot do this. They still cannot decide among themselves who is the leader, and now are conducting a PR campaign ahead of the 2015 presidential election,” one of the students says with indignation.

The real ideological force in Independence Square belongs to supporters of the nationalist party Svoboda (Freedom). Their actions are independent and well organised. They have only one authority - their leader Oleg Tyagnibok. They do not want to stand in the squares for weeks and wait for political negotiations with the participation of high-level European mediators, as Arseny Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko want. The Svoboda members want to act, and so they “take action.” First, they smashed windows in the Kiev mayor’s office, and then seized the building. After that they tore down a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of the Ukrainian capital. They are the most active in blocking the administrative buildings. A well-known Ukrainian political analyst, Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Ukrainian Politics Kost Bondarenko believes that they “need a vivid demonstration of a ‘victory over the regime,’ at any cost, which in this case seems worthwhile.”

Another category of the “population” in Independence Square is made up of homeless people. Learning about the “revolution,” they seem to have come to Kiev from all over Ukraine. After all, they can get here free meals, and there are also several round-the-clock points for distribution of warm clothes in the square. The clothes are taken mostly by homeless people who arrived in the capital from the country’s large cities.

A trio of grubby people, asked where they come from, say: “We are from different cities, and here we’ve met each other and stick together. We are awaiting news bags with winter clothing,” one of them replies. They spend the night in the mayor’s office building. And now they have been told to leave the premises, as representatives of a sanitary and epidemiological agency have arrived to conduct disinfection. The homeless only welcome the “revolution” and want it to continue until the warm season comes.

No one can predict so far whether the standoff would continue until the warm season or it would end these cold days. Some experts believe that people would get tired, also the New Year and Christmas holidays are near, so they would disperse. This approach appears to be too simplistic. The opposition leaders claim “a complete reset of the power.” The Ukrainian leadership is not likely to agree to their demands.

President of the Ukrainian Barometer Centre Viktor Nebozhenko believes that “the protest action will continue until the problems are solved.” “People will get tired, go home, but when they face the same unresolved problems, will again come to the rally. As a political analyst I declare that the Maidan has been invented by Ukrainians and it will always remain, under any president,” the expert believes.

The current opposition members have the money to constantly bring up people to Kiev, they have the support from Europe that is apparently providing not only moral, but also financial support. MP from the ruling Party of Regions Vadim Kolesnichenko is certain that the money for rallies in support of European integration comes mainly from Western countries. “The main mastermind and financier of the current ‘Euro Maidans’ is obvious when we look at how actively the European Community and American politicians support the protesters,” he said in an interview with Itar-Tass. However, according to him, the opposition parties hide it, because the Ukrainian law prohibits the use of foreign funds for their activities.

Nobody can say how much such protest rallies cost. However, the previous similar protest actions cost more than one million dollars. The Economichna Pravda newspaper has calculated that one day of the “work” of one thousand people in Independence Square costs 78 thousand hryvnia (about 10 thousand dollars).

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