Protesters settle in for the long haul

Opposition trying to persuade police and military to abandon Yanukovich

Oleksandr Danylyuk (right) in Ukraine’s agriculture ministry, which he and fellow opposition activists seized yesterday.

Oleksandr Danylyuk (right) in Ukraine’s agriculture ministry, which he and fellow opposition activists seized yesterday.

Sat, Jan 25, 2014, 01:00

Three glossy brown cows, looking somewhat bewildered, gaze out from a large photograph hanging in the reception of Ukraine’s ministry of agriculture.

On the wall underneath, fresh graffiti proclaims: “Power to the People.”

“We took the building last night, without resistance. It will be the headquarters of a new national guard,” says Oleksandr Danylyuk, whose civic organisation Spilna Sprava (common cause) was until now best known for protesting against corruption and unpopular tax law.

“The national guard will offer the security services a way to avoid conflict. We will win in the end anyway, but if they join us we can win without victims.”

Danylyuk (32) – who runs a business advocacy group when not helping to organise a revolution – says the country’s private gun-owners are being invited to join the guard, which will seek to persuade the police and military to abandon president Viktor Yanukovich.

“We already have lots of confidential contacts with them,” he says. “We think they will come over to our side.”

Much changed
That such claims seem plausible coming from a lawyer sporting a ski helmet and goggles shows how much Ukraine has changed since late November when a few thousand students first rallied against Mr Yanukovich’s rejection of a deal to deepen ties with the European Union.

Outside the ministry on Khreshchatyk boulevard no one now bats an eye at men wearing gas masks and body armour, carrying shields made from cupboard doors and clubs spiked with nails, or dressed as dashing Cossacks or medieval knights.

Khreshchatyk runs through Independence Square – known simply as Maidan – where volunteers of all ages smash hard-packed snow and ice and shovel it into sacks to reinforce the barricades.

Hundreds of people did the same in the early hours of yesterday morning, to build a towering new barrier just 200 metres from Mr Yanukovich’s office. Gangs of men heaved those heavy sacks from Maidan up Instytutska Street, and lugged tyres or empty oil drums, while others doused the barricade with water, which quickly froze hard.

Molotov cocktails
All the while, teenagers and older ladies ferried trays of fresh sandwiches and hot soup to the builders and the shifters, and to the men who smashed up paving stones and made Molotov cocktails in case the riot police paid a visit.

On Maidan they call this “mass mobilisation”, and it has been the order of the day since several protesters were shot dead during clashes with police this week.

The government says it faces a Western-backed coup led by “terrorists” and “extremists”. “We are not extremists,” says Danylyuk. “We are ordinary people trying to stop the terror of this regime.” Every wall and tent on Maidan is hung with flags and cartoons, photos and poems, by which protesters declare what this “revolution” means to them.

One demonstrator has pinned up a quote by John F Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”