Ministry occupation shows limited power of Klitschko over Kiev protesters

Politicians have limited influence over a broad and resolute protest movement

Oleksandr Danylyuk: “The only talks possible are about the total surrender of Yanukovich.”

Oleksandr Danylyuk: “The only talks possible are about the total surrender of Yanukovich.”

 

When Vitali Klitschko speaks, people tend to listen. He is, after all, a physically huge former world heavyweight boxing champion, a sporting hero in his native Ukraine, and now perhaps its most popular opposition leader.

One man who has stopped listening to Klitschko is Oleksandr Danylyuk. He is a slightly built lawyer and anti-corruption activist whom the authorities now accuse of “terrorism” for occupying three government ministries with activists from his organisation, Spilna Sprava (Common Cause).

In the early hours of yesterday, Danylyuk (32) and his masked men entered the justice ministry in central Kiev, adding it to a growing property portfolio that includes the nearby energy and agriculture ministries.

Protesters also control Kiev city hall, an exhibition centre and a trade union building.

Klitschko arrived at the justice ministry soon afterwards and asked Spilna Sprava to leave, saying their actions endangered crisis talks between the mainstream opposition and President Viktor Yanukovich and could prompt the imposition of emergency rule.

Danylyuk didn’t leave. “We’re an independent unit that decides for itself what to do. If someone agreed some kind of truce, it wasn’t us,” Danylyuk said later. “The only talks possible are about the total surrender of Yanukovich.”

Klitschko left the ministry, having succeeded only in confirming that he and fellow party leaders who speak from the stage on Independence Square have limited influence over a broad and resolute protest movement.

When the first clashes between demonstrators and riot police erupted nine days ago, they came after party leaders were booed on Independence Square for delivering more speeches full of bold slogans and grand ambitions, but devoid of a clear action plan.


Six lives
Led by an alliance called Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), which has a strong ultra-nationalist element, protesters confronted riot police on nearby Grushevsky Street in fighting that rumbled on for several days and claimed up to six lives.

According to Danylyuk, Spilna Sprava co-ordinates activity with Pravy Sektor and chiefs of “self-defence” groups in the camp on Independence Square. He says few, if any, are allied to mainstream parties, which he says “never used their chances to stop this dictatorship”.

“Politicians monopolised the platform on Independence Square and did nothing during two months of protests,” he told The Irish Times.

“They must also take responsibility for the victims on Grushevsky Street. Because for two months they let people just stand there, waiting like lambs for the slaughter.

“They didn’t act like rebels. I’m not even sure they had a strategy,” Danylyuk said.

He describes Spilna Sprava as a “pro-democracy civil movement” which was founded during 2010 rallies to fight new tax laws that hurt small businesses. Those protests were crushed. Now, claims Danylyuk, Spilna Sprava and protesters in most of Ukraine’s main cities are fighting a joint effort by Yanukovich and his Russian backers to “organise a dictatorship in Ukraine and break its independence”.

“This isn’t, as the West thinks, some kind of controlled chaos. This is already a real war for Ukrainian independence. And millions of people with no connection to the official opposition are ready to die for it.”


Stop the terror
Danylyuk hopes occupying ministries will expose the president’s weakness and force him to call immediate elections, so preventing possible bloodshed.

Many people are alarmed by the far-right stance of some of Danylyuk’s allies in Pravy Sektor, but he insists they are “nationalists, not Nazis”.

“And they are not all the guys on Grushevsky Street. At least 70 per cent of people there are ordinary Ukrainians who just want to stop the terror of this regime,”he said.