Protests spread in Ukraine in spite of bitter cold

Anti-government protests are spreading in Ukraine as embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych promises to reshuffle his government and make other concessions to the opposition seeking his ouster.  Many Ukrainians have taken to the streets for the past two months to protest the government’s decision to reject a deal with the European Union and forge closer ties with Russia.

Bitter cold has not deterred protesters in the Ukrainian capital, where they are barricaded with sandbags and automobile tires.  One protester told VOA that more people will be showing up. “I am sure that more people will come here and fight back.  We can’t just stand here while the snipers shoot at us,” he said.

Violent protests started about two months ago after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement bringing Ukraine closer to western Europe, signing deals with Russia instead.

Protester Mikhailo Gavrilyuk described brutality he said he suffered at the hands of riot police in Kyiv.  “They have stripped me naked and started to kick my head as football players kick a ball.  They were jumping and showing what heroes they are.  They were taking pictures of each other while I was lying on the ground naked and they were standing on my head,” he explained.

Talks with the government aimed at ending the protests broke down Thursday night, increasing the opposition’s mistrust of the country’s leadership.

“[President] Yanukovych will not back down, because he could face criminal prosecution.” stated another protester. “So what kind of negotiations can there be?  That’s ridiculous.”

President Yanukovych said Friday he is ready to discuss a solution.  “We are ready for further talks to find a compromise.  Yesterday, we agreed on having an extraordinary plenary session. It can actually be called urgent, not just extraordinary.  During this session, we will review the tasks that are necessary to resolve the difficult questions,” he stated.

Demonstrations, often violent, also have taken place in other cities.

Residents of Lviv in western Ukraine on Friday attended a funeral for opposition activist Yuri Verbitsky, who was injured in clashes in central Kyiv and taken to a hospital along with another activist, Igor Lutsenko. Later they were taken away from the hospital by unknown men.  Lutsenko was beaten and later released. He is said to be back in the hospital.  Verbitsky was found dead in a wooded area near the airport with signs of torture.

At least three other protesters have been killed so far in clashes between protesters and riot police.  The United States has urged the Ukrainian government to find a peaceful end to the crisis.

(Photo: Serge Medyanik/