Ukraine protesters demand president’s resignation

Ukraine’s pro-European protesters said Sunday they are not interested in sharing power with President Viktor Yanukovych. They want him to quit.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s president unexpectedly offered to name one opposition leader as prime minister and a second one as a vice prime minister.

But in Kyiv and elsewhere, many people rejected the offer, saying the president is starting to retreat after two months of anti-government protests. On Sunday, protests spread to six regions east and south of Kyiv, regions that traditionally supported President Yanukovych.

Before the protests, Igor was a bartender in Donetsk, the Russian-speaking hometown of Ukraine’s president. On Sunday, this 37-year-old was in Kyiv, manning a frontline bunker facing helmeted riot troops 50 meters away.

“The revolution should take one night,” he said impatiently. “The next morning, he should wake up without his presidency.”

Two hundred meters away, volunteers swept up broken window glass from Kiev’s downtown exhibition hall. Sunday morning, hundreds of fighters besieged the building, trapping 200 riot police hiding inside. After tense negotiations, the police were allowed to evacuate the building, without their bulletproof vests.

Oleksandr, a 65-year-old designer, walked the hall. He arrived Sunday from Odessa, the heavily Russian speaking Black Sea port that historically supports President Yanukovych. Oleksandr called for the president’s resignation, the formation of a transitional government, and then elections.

“People are dying because of him,” he said, referring to the president. He added: “I participated in the Orange Revolution of a decade ago. In that national uprising, no one was killed.”

Opposition leaders say that in the last week, five protesters have been killed and dozens have disappeared.

As Oleksandr talked, an ambulance rolled up, carrying the open coffin of a slain protester, Mikhail Zhiznevsky.

Religious hymns mixed with chants of “Hero!” as the body of the 25-year-old Kyiv student was returned to the spot on Europe Square where he was shot last week, apparently by police.

After the funeral cortege left, volunteers went back to chipping ice off the pavement to fill bags for new barricades.

The deaths have hardened attitudes. All protesters interviewed Sunday were in no mood for compromise. Oleg, a warehouse worker from the western Ukraine city of Lviv, has been standing guard at a checkpoint for two months, often in near Arctic temperatures.

“We are here for the complete change of government — not for a change of some people,” he said.

After two months of protest, Ukraine’s opposition now believes it is gaining the upper hand.

Protesters now occupy local government offices in half of Ukraine’s 24 regions. Riot police units in at least three regions have switched sides, saying they will no longer answer orders from Yanukovych.

In that light, opposition parliamentarians told the government on Sunday to release about 200 protesters detained recently in Kyiv and the regions. They said this is not a negotiating point, but an ultimatum. If protesters are not released by Monday, they said, a new wave of protesters will storm the prisons.

(Photo: Euromaidan)



James Brooke VOA Moscow Bureau Chief

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow last summer – the hottest on record. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.