Originally published at 16:14
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KIEV, December 8 (RIA Novosti) – Several hundred thousand people gathered in the Ukrainian capital Sunday for one of the largest protest rallies in the former Soviet nation’s history, throwing down the gauntlet to a government that has resisted calls for negotiation with the opposition.
In an incident that may spark criminal investigations and cast a shadow over the generally pacific events, however, a group of nationalists ripped down a statue of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.
The mass assembly in Kiev was the biggest to date since the government last month pulled out of preparations to sign landmark political and trade deals with the EU, sparking widespread indignation across Ukraine.
In an indication that the standoff has provoked international concern, the European Commission announced Sunday that EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Kiev next week to assist in seeking a way out of the political impasse.
Authorities have so far displayed little desire to compromise with the opposition, and have instead limited themselves to issuing ominous warnings that demonstrations could tip over into unrest.
Despite that, Sunday’s events had passed largely without incident until the late afternoon, as darkness began to descend.
While nationwide discontent was initially focused on the reversal of course over the EU– a move authorities justified by stating it was preferable to boost economic ties with neighboring Russia – it has with time taken on a more generalized anti-government flavor.
Ukraine’s weak economy, much of which is reliant on outdated heavy industry, has struggled to recover from the devastating impact of the recent global financial crisis. Rampant unemployment has driven large numbers of Ukrainians abroad for work and many bristle at perceived high-level corruption.
Shortly after light broke Sunday, Ukrainian Orthodox Church priests led open-air prayers from the stage as hundreds of those camped in overnight began awaking and collecting rations of tea and breakfast.
Toward mid-morning, the crowd on Independence Square had already swelled to a few thousand people, many of them waving an array of flags, from those of Ukraine to the standards of leading opposition parties and the European Union.
As the assigned time for the midday start to the assembly approached, a crowd of all ages grew fast and filled the square and streets leading off it. Groups affiliated with political parties marched in file to and from the square, reciting political chants and singing patriotic songs on the way.
Kiev police estimated the turnout at 100,000, but bird’s eye video footage of Independence Square and the sheer number of people filling side streets suggested a vastly superior figure.
Man in national costume tries hot porridge on Independence square, Dec. 8, 2013
One of the first to talk from the stage, which bore the slogan “For a European Ukraine” behind it, was Yevgeniya Tymoshenko, reading out a defiant and bellicose speech from her mother, jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“Do not give up, don’t take one step back. Do not sit at the negotiating table with the authorities,” the younger Tymoshenko said, reading out her mother’s message. “Our aim is for the early, quick removal of (Viktor Yanukovych) as president of Ukraine.”
That drew an indignant response from ruling Party of Regions deputy Vitaly Grushevsky, who described Tymoshenko’s statement as an incitement to "hatred, disorder and chaos."
"Tymoshenko's appeal is nothing more or less than a call for a coup," Grushevsky said.
In what has become a verbal leitmotif of opposition meetings, speeches on Independence Square opened or closed with the slogan “Glory to Ukraine,” to which the crowd replied: “Glory to the heroes.”
It is unclear to what extent the opposition parties most actively engaged in the protest –Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), the Udar (Punch) party of heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitschko, and Svoboda (Freedom) – have control over the wave of discontent and leaders have often acted uncertainly in conveying their political demands.
That did not appear to be the case Sunday, however, as various party leaders stated their case.
Arseny Yatsenyuk, head of the Batkivshchyna faction in parliament, demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and announced that the scope of protests would be broadened.
Klitschko told the crowd that a decisive moment had arrived for Ukraine and urged a total revision of “the structures of power” through early parliamentary and presidential elections.
The protest movement had appeared to be losing momentum until November 30, when police aggressively cleared Independence Square, sparking outrage and prompting hundreds of thousands to rally on the spot the following day. The square, which served as the focal point of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004-2005, has been occupied and closed off to authorities ever since.
Yevhenia Tymoshenko reading out jailed Yulia Tymoshenko's message during the rally in Kiev, Dec. 8, 2013
Thousands are occupying the space on a round-the-clock basis, huddling around wood-fueled fires in steel barrels to keep warm as temperatures hover around freezing point. Speeches to the assembled have alternated with musical acts, creating a festive mood among the determinedly peaceful crowd.
Police presence has been virtually negligible around the square, but security is tight at the nearby presidential administration and parliament buildings, which have both been targeted by rallies.
On Independence Square, volunteers clad in protective gear stood sentry at gaps in the barricades to check for suspicious elements among the many thousands constantly pouring in and out of the area. Dozens of tents, many of them equipped with heating stoves, have been installed as sleeping quarters and feeding points.
Graffiti, banners, fliers and stickers dotted around the area decry, in frequently bawdy language, leading figures in the ruling elite.
Those that have turned out in the square have rallied around numerous, often apparently disparate, causes. These have ranged from calls for deep governmental reform – typically expressed as an aspiration to emulate Western European standards – to demands that conditions be improved for small and medium business to flourish.
Outside parliament, sited a little more than a kilometer away from Independence Square, several thousand government supporters held their own meeting Sunday, as they have done in recent days. The number of attendees of that meeting was vastly inferior to that of the opposition – the figure claimed by organizers was around 15,000.
Pro-government gatherings have typically been more subdued. On Saturday evening, young men guarding entry points were turning people away, just as a raucous musical act was getting into its stride at Independence Square.
On Sunday, speakers called on the pro-government crowd to give their backing to President Yanukovych, who has been target of much vitriolic rhetoric on Independence Square.
In a telling detail, one speech after another was in Russian, in contrast with the Ukrainian favored at the opposition rally – a fact that underlines the regional aspect of the political divide. While Yanukovych enjoys the bulk of his support in the largely ethnic Russian east, the more European-inclined, Ukrainian-speaking population prevalently hails from the west.
Addressing the crowd in Russian and a smattering of Ukrainian, ruling Party of Regions deputy Nestor Shufrych urged supporter to give their backing to Yanukovych and condemned government opponents as a divisive force in the country.
“Don’t let them tell you that half the people of this country should not be allowed to think in Russian, the language of Pushkin, the language of Lermontov,” he said, in a reference to two classic 19th century Russian poets.
As sundown approached, groups of people in the opposition marched up the hill from Independence Square and erected tents at a crossroad one block away from a spot where the pro-government Party of Regions was holding its gathering.
At one stage, only a few rows of police officers separated the two crowds. Opposition representatives used a public address system mounted on a van to address people on both sides of the police lines.
In another part of the city, a group of masked youths apparently belonging to the Svoboda nationalist party used a steel cable to rip down a Lenin statue. The head and arms of the monument broke away as it hit the ground, after which people in the crowd took turns at smashing off fragments with a sledgehammer.
Alexey Yaroshevsky, a reporter for news broadcaster RT, posted a picture on his Twitter account of a priest joining in with the process of destroying the statue.
The Lenin statue had been the target of a similar toppling attempt on December 1, but that effort was thwarted by security forces.
Changes headline, adds details on Lenin statue toppling
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- Panthera PardusThe historical meaning of this demonstration will be clear in summer16:45, 08/12/2013in summer there are the EU political election, the question is how large the anti EU political forces will be overall (in some countries the slaves have began to rebel already), so back to Ukraine it will be the only case of people of one country protesting to get in, whereas the people who are inside are protesting to get out.
Actually having Ukraine in EU may accellerate the fall of the EU ( Ukranian, be aware that no matter what the propaganda says.. EU IS BROKEN the money is finished, it is over ) so, in a certain sense, you protest may have a positive :-) outcome.
- antfreUkraine opposition rallies.02:36, 12/12/2013A people that lives so close to the huge nation that oppressed them for so long and that left such painfull memories would go to the EU or wherever in order to prevent falling in the same situation they were from 1918 to the end Of the USSR. The wounds are still open.
- agnesmaria(no title)04:39, 09/12/2013"While nationwide discontent was initially focused on the reversal of course over the EU– a move authorities justified by stating it was preferable to boost economic ties with neighboring Russia – it has with time taken on a more generalized anti-government flavor."
This is what I was warning of - the regular pro-EU people, who know not that the EU will not solve all of their problems and fulfill all of their needs and lead them to the promised land, are joined in the streets by the ranks of extremists who are anti-government in general and have revolution on their minds at all times. These opportunists are using this chance to launch their attempt to damage the system as much as possible. The disgraceful conduct of the protesters cannot be taken seriously. The property damage indicated in this incident can barely be spoken of, such is the level of disrespect for the city expressed here. This is not the way to be heard, it is the way to destroy one's own life and also to force the hand of the State to come come ever more heavily on the situation. It is time to disperse, or face descent into total anarchy. And with that will come much suffering. This political pivot point is not in any way remotely close to being a good enough reason to risk one's life in violent protest. For now, the protesters can still go home. That is the one thing that they are not respecting. They are trashing their own streets over something that them know very little about, and the opposition is using their ignorance in continuing to rile them up. The opposition does not care about the will of the people, they are only thinking of taking control of the government for themselves, and are attempting to convince the people to allow them to do so with their permission. They are outright lying and promising what does not exist. To see a civilised nation so reduced is truly an unfortunate sight. This is not the way to shape the system to serve the needs of the citizens, no matter in what sector of society they operate.
- SchulerFTaygnibok tells the truth!08:11, 09/12/2013Тягнибок: “Кличко и Яценюк выводят за деньги” с 3-ей мин.
Taygnibok “Klitchko and Yatseniuk take money and pay protesters to stay in the streets” – from 3 min. into the video. Hahahaha!
- BlizzardFacts15:19, 09/12/2013Once for a change let us leave to facts and figures tell the story about dreams and reality. In order to make all more realistic I will draw the comparison between Germany and Ukraine. Why Germany? Well it is more than obvious as I live in Germany and know the situation over here quite well and do not forget we have some experience in investments.
Ukraine territory is about 600.000 km2
Germany territory is about 357.000 km2
(ex DDR territory was about 108.000 km2)
Ukraine's population is about 44 million
Germany's population is about 82 million
(ex DDR had population of 16 million)
Ukraine has GDP about 3.200 USD
Germany has GDP about 44.300 USD
(ex DDR has GDP calculated in 2008 year, value of 25.000 USD)
In 5 years from 1990 till 1995 W Germany invested in newly annexed E Germany 850 milliards EUR (illiterate Americans use billions instead, without knowing that billion means million x million) and about 50 milliards EUR yearly afterwards for additional 5 years.
Despite enormous amount of money being injected into rather small but still quite rich economy there are still massive differences and the former E German economy is lagging about 10 – 15% behind W counterpart.
Now armed with these data we can only assume that Ukraine would require about 10 x that amount of money to considerable small effect. As in case of W Germany which was leading investment into E Germany the only who gained massively was W Germany and not E Germany. Only later due to coordinated government efforts E Germany started to pick up faster than the W Germany.
In case of Ukraine the only beneficiaries would be EU businesses and local thugs, corrupt politicians, oligarchs and other connected people. Wast population and all of these disillusioned protesters would end up worst than ever. They do not understand that EU has no nearly 1000 milliards to invest into Ukraine, and therefore Ukraine will stay in waiting room for decades to come until EU disintegrates as it is becoming very likely.
If Russia closes gas pipe due to unpaid bills, who will come to help and foot the bill? EU? Just forget it, there is neither money nor unity to do so. Croatia was in much, much better shape than it is Ukraine and it was waiting for a full 9 years to join the club, only to discover that they did bad mistake. Turkey is economic giant and well off in comparison to Ukraine and will not enter in EU no matter what. So does that means that the protesters are just blinded with hope and desperation to believe that EU wants them? Yes they are, pro-western politicians know very well that Ukraine has no chance to join EU, but it serves them well to make chaos and disorder. Who of them is actually prepared to guarantee with all his wealth and life that they will succeed in bringing Ukraine in EU during their reign?
To sell bullshit is painless and very cheap if ii does not work but it is good gamble if it works. Benefits are often bigger than risks as there is nothing easier than manipulating the masses.
- mobealeCleptocracy05:07, 10/12/2013I think many Ukrainians share young Russians' dream getting out from under a pitifully corrupt system. President Putin having cleverly thwarted protests in Russia will undoubtedly help an adjoining brother country to do the same.
I don't think Ukrainians are so vapid as to think money will fall out of the sky in the EU as has been suggested in some posts, nor do I think they can fully appreciate the difficulties in assimilating into the EU. It was difficult even for the original EU countries. I agree it may not initially work out as a immediate positive for them. One thing they do have is hugely rich and productive farmland which could eventually be a big plus in the EU.
It's a good thing they toppled Lenin. It indicates their frustration with the dictates of their neighbor to the east is part of the equation.
Also 1 billion=1000 million, not 1 million million.
- antfreStatue of Lenin17:58, 09/12/2013In reality, there is no reason for the Ukranian people to keep a statue of the Communist tirant Lenin in their territory. Few people, if any suffered more under Communism, than the heroic ukranian people. If the new russian tzars want to keep that brave people under their heel again, it will cost them dearly.
- mishkaColourful revolution once more?18:13, 09/12/2013No I dont think a nation can be so stupid to swallow the same poison as a medicine again. It is difficult to believe there is no influence of FOREIGN magic touches in these demonstrations. Especially after Snowden leaks.
We had an old Bulgarian couple neighbour in the apartment. Actually they were not Bulgarian but ethnically Turkish rooted Bulgarian citizens. They are old and lived in Istanbul Turkey but they had many relatives and even children and grandchildren in Bulgaria still. One day they told me that to enter EU made Bulgaria even worse. People are unhappier now and miss "iron curtain" days. In their opinion EU does not recreate Bulgaria but rather exploits. They told many Bulgarians say them you are lucky to live in Turkey.
Turkish PM also has realised this and told V. Putin that "let you accept us into Shangai Group and save us from EU."