In for the long haul on the streets of Kiev

Al Jazeera finds both anti-government and pro-government supporters determined to stay the course in Ukraine's capital.

Last updated: 29 Jan 2014 06:14
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Pro-government demonstrators gathered outside parliament as it voted on Tuesday [Reuters]

Kiev, Ukraine - A large crowd of grim-faced and well-organised people marched up the hill that leads to the parliament of Ukraine just as the start time of a special session nears.

These government supporters, numbered in the thousands, were divided in battalion-like manner and positioned themselves in the garden in front of the Rada (parliament) on Tuesday morning, January 28.

Inside, politicians voted for the abolition of some of the draconian anti-protest laws that had enflamed two-month long anti-government protests when they were passed on January 16. A law that threatened protesters with 15 years in jail was scrapped. But legislation against wearing helmets and masks stayed in force.

"There is no situation that is not possible to solve through negotiations," Oleh Kalashnikov, leader of the pro-government Combined Arms Union of Ukraine, shouted into a microphone from a stage.

First they said that we would move towards the EU, then they said no. They said they would not use force against peaceful protests, then they did. People lost trust in them.

- Ihor Ziyvski, an anti-government activist

"Our people won't let anyone talk with the words of ultimatum. Our mission today is to stop the people who want the coup."

Kalashnikov accused the opposition, who want President Viktor Yanukovich to step aside, of having brought the demonstrators to the city's Independence Square with lies and called on "extremists to stop destabilising the country".

Just a few minutes' walk away on the square itself, Dmitri Sidorinko, an anti-government activist, told Al Jazeera that those on his side of the political divide didn't want trouble either.

"Nobody wants bloodshed," he said. "It's neither in our interests, nor Berkut's (police)."

Sidorinko insisted Al Jazeera follow him to a basement of an occupied town hall so that he could show the conditions that opposition activists were living in. And, he said, all for the same thing: "To make Yanukovich resign."

Passing through rows of men sleeping on the floor in a few shabby rooms, Sidorinko offered chocolates from a Ukrainian brand - Roshen - that has been the subject to an embargo in Russia. Pro-EU activists seem to keep them handy to protest Yanukovich's rejection of a trade deal with Europe in November in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

'Until victory'

That move pushed huge waves of demonstrators onto the streets of Kiev. And similar protesters have since poured out onto the streets of several other Ukrainian cities.

"The government didn't leave another option for the people," Ihor Ziyvski, an anti-government activist told Al Jazeera.

"First they said that we would move towards the EU, then they said no. They said they would not use force against peaceful protests, then they did. People lost trust in them."

Alexandr Zinchenko, who identified himself as a "commandant of tent city", told Al Jazeera at the pro-government demonstration that the opposition was leading the country into a civil war.

"The (anti-government) protesters should go home and not bring their children up with the spirit of a radical by bringing them to the square. They must not bring them up to be fascists," he said.

The other major development on Tuesday was the resignation of  Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his entire cabinet. Azarov, it has been claimed, felt humiliated by the president this week when his post was offered to the leader of the opposition.

The news that he had stepped down was greeted with loud cheers on Independence Square, some protesters calling it "a small victory".

Others were more sceptical.

"Azarov's resignation doesn't mean much," Ziyvski said. "He resigned - that means the whole cabinet is dismissed, but the president still has the power to appoint all of the ministers single-handedly."

Sidorenko, who referred to him as "deputy thief" - a play on the fact that Azarov, read backwards and split in two, means exactly that in Ukrainian - said his resignation must be followed by the resignation of Yanukovich.

"In the last seven years, nothing has changed in our country for better. Look at them," Sidorenko said, gesturing at the protesters in Independence Square. "Do you think they would come out in the street if everything was all right?

"We will be here until the end, until victory. Everything should be decided within two to three days, or we will resort to decisive action. In principle, we are already prepared for it."

Follow Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter: @tamila87v


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