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Little mood for compromise on Kiev’s battered Independence Square

-

Petro Nazapo sharpens a wooden table leg with his penknife as he prepares for another night at the barricade of sandbags and barbed wire.

"We're preparing for another attack," said the helmeted, middle-aged protester from Lviv in western Ukraine, who has manned this post every night for the past month.

"Only with this can we be sure that we'll win," he said, brandishing his improvised truncheon in the air. "And we will only leave when we've won."

Behind him, masked protesters were putting the finishing touches to a makeshift wood-and-tarpaulin storehouse full of glass bottles and jerry cans of fuel -- ingredients for the Molotov cocktails hurled at police.

A day earlier, just a few metres away, security forces had opened up with automatic rifles on demonstrators carrying homemade shields, leaving bodies scattered in the smouldering rubble of Kiev's Independence Square, the epicentre of three months of demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovych.

Shellshocked and uncertain, but still refusing to back down, protesters were struggling to digest the events of the past few days: a brutal police assault, a bloodbath and now a glimmer of victory.

Protesters sing their national anthem at a barricade on February 21  2014 at the Independent square ...
Protesters sing their national anthem at a barricade on February 21, 2014 at the Independent square in Kiev
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

Their leaders had just signed a deal with Yanukovych that should change the constitution, set up a coalition government and see early elections held in December -- essentially what many the protesters had been demanding all along.

Yet despite some 40,000 people of all ages streaming to the square on Friday evening, the atmosphere was muted and opinions mixed.

The one point that kept them firmly united: Yanukovych must go. Now.

"Elections in December are not enough. He has to leave now. Otherwise he could end up like Khaddafi or Ceausescu," said Oleh Bukoyenko, a ribbon with "Glory to the heroes" pinned to his chest.

When a speaker from jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party suggested that Yanukovych should be allowed to leave the country to avoid more bloodshed, many in the crowd objected loudly.

"No, no, no," they shouted back, waving their index fingers in the air.

"It was a crime against humanity and Yanukovych should be sent to the Hague," said Kiev resident Sergei Yanchukov, 58, sipping coffee from a paper cup.

- Grim reminders everywhere -

Around the ravaged, soot-stained square it was hard to avoid signs of Thursday's killings.

Protesters advance towards new positions in Kiev on February 20  2014
Protesters advance towards new positions in Kiev on February 20, 2014
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

Men in balaclavas held a wooden board with the pictures of two protesters -- one aged 43 the other 29 -- gunned down by security forces, with candles, flowers and the helmets of dead arranged in front.

As the crowd shuffled into the square, people stopped to take off their hats, cross themselves and drop money into a collection box.

Elsewhere on the square the base of a towering monument to Ukrainian independence has been turned into a shrine for the victims, with oversized wreaths leaning against its marble columns.

Some on the square said that they now hoped that life in the conflict-ravaged centre of Kiev could return to some sort of normalcy.

"We've reached the peak and it can't get any worse than it's been," said Natasha Naraevskaya, holding open a garbage bag as her daughter swept up rubbish.

"We're not terrorists, we're just normal people."

Anti-government demonstrators jump above a barricade after adding tyres to a fire  at the last barri...
Anti-government demonstrators jump above a barricade after adding tyres to a fire, at the last barricade controlled by protesters on February 21, 2014 at the Independent square in Kiev
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

Nearby, young women in aviator sunglasses posed for photos in front of the smouldering rubble as a memento of the history being made on the Maidan, as the square is also known.

But protesters remain adamant that the struggle is not over and they are not going anywhere.

Some are even starting to rebuild the sprawling tent city that was ravaged by fire in the recent fighting.

Overseeing young men as they put together a blue and white striped tent, Catholic priest Michael Dudar is resurrecting a church tent that went up in flames.

"Of course the people are staying here," he said. "The enemy is still alive."

Petro Nazapo sharpens a wooden table leg with his penknife as he prepares for another night at the barricade of sandbags and barbed wire.

“We’re preparing for another attack,” said the helmeted, middle-aged protester from Lviv in western Ukraine, who has manned this post every night for the past month.

“Only with this can we be sure that we’ll win,” he said, brandishing his improvised truncheon in the air. “And we will only leave when we’ve won.”

Behind him, masked protesters were putting the finishing touches to a makeshift wood-and-tarpaulin storehouse full of glass bottles and jerry cans of fuel — ingredients for the Molotov cocktails hurled at police.

A day earlier, just a few metres away, security forces had opened up with automatic rifles on demonstrators carrying homemade shields, leaving bodies scattered in the smouldering rubble of Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicentre of three months of demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovych.

Shellshocked and uncertain, but still refusing to back down, protesters were struggling to digest the events of the past few days: a brutal police assault, a bloodbath and now a glimmer of victory.

Protesters sing their national anthem at a barricade on February 21  2014 at the Independent square ...

Protesters sing their national anthem at a barricade on February 21, 2014 at the Independent square in Kiev
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

Their leaders had just signed a deal with Yanukovych that should change the constitution, set up a coalition government and see early elections held in December — essentially what many the protesters had been demanding all along.

Yet despite some 40,000 people of all ages streaming to the square on Friday evening, the atmosphere was muted and opinions mixed.

The one point that kept them firmly united: Yanukovych must go. Now.

“Elections in December are not enough. He has to leave now. Otherwise he could end up like Khaddafi or Ceausescu,” said Oleh Bukoyenko, a ribbon with “Glory to the heroes” pinned to his chest.

When a speaker from jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party suggested that Yanukovych should be allowed to leave the country to avoid more bloodshed, many in the crowd objected loudly.

“No, no, no,” they shouted back, waving their index fingers in the air.

“It was a crime against humanity and Yanukovych should be sent to the Hague,” said Kiev resident Sergei Yanchukov, 58, sipping coffee from a paper cup.

– Grim reminders everywhere –

Around the ravaged, soot-stained square it was hard to avoid signs of Thursday’s killings.

Protesters advance towards new positions in Kiev on February 20  2014

Protesters advance towards new positions in Kiev on February 20, 2014
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

Men in balaclavas held a wooden board with the pictures of two protesters — one aged 43 the other 29 — gunned down by security forces, with candles, flowers and the helmets of dead arranged in front.

As the crowd shuffled into the square, people stopped to take off their hats, cross themselves and drop money into a collection box.

Elsewhere on the square the base of a towering monument to Ukrainian independence has been turned into a shrine for the victims, with oversized wreaths leaning against its marble columns.

Some on the square said that they now hoped that life in the conflict-ravaged centre of Kiev could return to some sort of normalcy.

“We’ve reached the peak and it can’t get any worse than it’s been,” said Natasha Naraevskaya, holding open a garbage bag as her daughter swept up rubbish.

“We’re not terrorists, we’re just normal people.”

Anti-government demonstrators jump above a barricade after adding tyres to a fire  at the last barri...

Anti-government demonstrators jump above a barricade after adding tyres to a fire, at the last barricade controlled by protesters on February 21, 2014 at the Independent square in Kiev
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

Nearby, young women in aviator sunglasses posed for photos in front of the smouldering rubble as a memento of the history being made on the Maidan, as the square is also known.

But protesters remain adamant that the struggle is not over and they are not going anywhere.

Some are even starting to rebuild the sprawling tent city that was ravaged by fire in the recent fighting.

Overseeing young men as they put together a blue and white striped tent, Catholic priest Michael Dudar is resurrecting a church tent that went up in flames.

“Of course the people are staying here,” he said. “The enemy is still alive.”

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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