Solidarity warms protesters as rallies freeze heart of Kiev
The anger towards Yanukovich and the police is palpable in city’s main square
A protester waves a Ukranian flag near Independence Square in Kiev on Wednesday. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters
Young protesters from western Ukraine on Kiev’s Independence Square. From left, Yaroslav Dishuk, Yura Bilyarski, Michael Danysko, Andrei Andruseikin, Oleg Voitko. Photograph: Daniel McLaughlin
They eyeballed each other through the foggy glass, the riot police in the bus and the protesters massed outside in the frosty Kiev air. “Glory to Ukraine! ” shouted an elderly man, waving a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag above his thick fur hat.
“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!” the crowd called out in reply. The young faces on the bus stared out in silence from beneath heavy helmets, perhaps wondering when they would have to relieve their colleagues lined up a few hundred metres down the road, forming a thick black line in front of government headquarters.
A similar stand-off blocked every road leading to the cabinet building yesterday, as thousands of people answered opposition calls to paralyse the work of politicians whom they accuse of betraying the country, selling it out to Russia and lining their own pockets in the process.
The protests have brought central Kiev to a near standstill, with Independence Square transformed into an impromptu campsite and broad Khreschatyk Avenue and surrounding streets closed to traffic since hundreds of thousands of people laid claim to the area last weekend.
“We arrived yesterday and we’re going nowhere until president Yanukovich and his gang are kicked out,” said Yaroslav Dishuk (18), to nods of agreement from the four friends with whom he came by bus to Kiev from western Ukraine.
“We went out to protest in our town, Ivano-Frankivsk, when Yanukovich didn’t sign the association deal with the EU last week. But we decided to come here after riot police beat peaceful people on the square. That was the last straw,” said Michael Danysko (19).
Many people on Independence Square, or the Maidan as locals call it, are here not to make a political point but to express their outrage at the behaviour of the riot police, and the apparent impunity that they and their bosses appear to enjoy.
“The Maidan is not about political parties,” said Dishuk. “Sure, we want a government that is not corrupt and which will lead us towards the EU – the current lot are leading us back to Russia, which is a nightmare. But the Maidan is about the people and the country. This is where the future of Ukraine is being decided.”
The young men from far-off Ivano-Frankivsk spent their first night in Kiev walking around the Maidan. They seem thrilled to be part of a movement that has taken over the grandest part of their capital, and appears to be held together by a sense of solidarity and patriotic purpose.
Scores of people sleep in tents on the square, behind a big stage on which bands play until late at night. Volunteers offer free food, hot drinks and medical help, and crowds huddle around fires in metal barrels that are fed from huge piles of chopped wood.
Protesters have built barricades around the Maidan to prevent a riot police raid, and these makeshift walls of tables, packing crates and parts of a giant plastic Christmas tree are plastered with posters and graffiti denouncing Yanukovich, his government and Russia.
Young men kick around a football in the middle of Khreschatyk, while others queue to get into city hall, a Kiev landmark that is suddenly open to all as the “headquarters of the revolution”. Its doors revolve day and night, as people go in to warm up, eat and sleep in the corridors of Ukrainian power, which are now thick with protest flags, excited talk and the snores of weary demonstrators.