After a week of violent protests, the government of Ukraine’s embattled President Viktor Yanukovich moved to quell the unrest Tuesday with the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the scrapping of anti-protest laws.
These concessions were welcomed by demonstrators camped out on Kiev’s Independence Square, but only as a first step towards their ultimate goal: the departure of the president himself.
“The government is playing cat and mouse,” says Oleg Veremiyenko, a lawyer who has come to film the barricades on a road that has seen some of the most intense fighting between demonstrators and police.
“The people in power want more time but nothing will change, the resignation of the prime minister will have no impact on the system.”
Buckshot cartridges frozen in the frosty ground and the shells of burnt out vehicles provide a reminder of the violent battles fought on Independence Square (also known as Maidan), which has been occupied by protesters ever since the government backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in November.
A lull in confrontations in recent days has not softened the determination of the protesters on the front line, nor has the ongoing political wrangling.
For Oleg, the opposition leaders negotiating with the government on behalf of the protesters are merely “part of the same system as Yanukovich”.
“The people have endured freezing temperatures to stay on the streets for two months and what has the opposition achieved? Nothing, no concrete results, just the loss of five young people!” he says, referring to the deaths and unexplained disappearance of several protesters.
‘The protests will not stop’
His position is shared by many of the armed and helmeted men on the front line. Aleksander, a Kiev local, is taking advantage of the respite from fighting to get some rest before returning to the barricades.
“None of the concessions announced today will make us leave,” says the bus driver, taking refuge from the cold beside a fire.
A few hundred metres from the front-line barricades, Irina is using the period of relative calm to visit her friends on Independence Square, renamed EuroMaidan by the protesters.
Wrapped in a fur coat, the young museum guide identifies herself as a supporter of the boxer turned politician Vitaly Klitschko, who along with other opposition leaders recently rejected an offer of a government post.
“The protests will not stop while Yanukovich is still in power,” she told FRANCE 24. “He comes from Donetsk, a region known for its mafia gangs. If we don’t mobilise in the streets, it will be very difficult to remove him.”
At the headquarters of the nationalist party Svoboda, which has taken a prominent role in the protest movement, the president’s concessions are primarily seen as a sign of weakness to be exploited.
“It is a step in the right direction but we are still demanding a general amnesty and a return to the pre-2004 constitution,’ says Andriy Bardys, a 26-year-old parliamentary assistant.
This constitutional sleight of hand would then allow a transfer of the bulk of presidential powers to a prime minister chosen by the opposition, says Andriy.
“We obviously want Yanukovich to go, but we realise that we don’t necessarily have the power to drive him out without bloodshed,” he says.
In photos: Ukraine protests
Despite President Yanukovich’s concessions, protesters spent Tuesday reinforcing the barricades protecting their camp in Independence Square. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Mothers of protesters implore riot police to show restraint. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
One of the mothers approaches the police line to talk directly to the security forces. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
The frozen ground is littered with debris from last week’s clashes: stones, Molotov cocktails, buckshot cartridges, etc. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Despite the ongoing negotiations between the government and opposition, the protesters remain on their guard. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
The leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, Oleh Tyahnybok, urges his followers to stay mobilised in a speech at Independence Square. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Cohorts of armed ultra-nationalists leave the barricades to listen to the Svoboda leader speak. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Organised along paramilitary lines, these nationalist groups are now more visible than the pro-Europe demonstrators that formed the majority at the start of the protests. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Ivan has come from the city of Lviv in western Ukraine to support the anti-Yanukovich movement. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Kiev bus driver Aleksander says the government’s concessions are far from sufficient. Photo: Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24.
Date created : 2014-01-29