Thousands of demonstrators on May 11 picketed parliament in opposing rallies led by the pro-presidential Party of Regions and the oppositional National Salvation Committee, a group of civic activists, intellectuals and political leaders on the outs with the Viktor Yanukovych administration.
Presidential critics said they could have attracted more demonstrators had police not interfered with public transportation to stop people from coming to Kyiv.
Guarded by hundreds helmeted Berkut riot troops, about 2,000 Party of Regions supporters barricaded themselves along Hrushevskogo Street, while organizers of the National Salvation Committee, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, delivered speeches to their supporters in front of Maryinskiy Palace.
About 1,000 police officers placed large cast iron fences between the feuding groups and patrolled the park to maintain order and keep them apart. No incidents were reported at the rallies, which were cut short due to the weather.
“We are forcing pro-presidential deputies to vote for a measure to report what agreements Yanukovych plans to sign with Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev. I thank you for this victory.”
- Yulia Tymoshenko, opposition leader.
The rain started to pour on Tymoshenko as she started to castigate Yanukovych and his team for selling out the country to Russia. She thanked supporters for braving the inclement weather and called on all patriotic political leaders to join a nationwide protest movement.
“We are forcing pro-presidential deputies to vote for a measure to report what agreements Yanukovych plans to sign with Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev. I thank you for this victory,” Tymoshenko said. Medvedev is scheduled to arrive in Kyiv on May 17.
Tymoshenko said the opposition is seeking national support for holding early parliamentary elections, which are presently scheduled for September 2012. Tymoshenko was joined by ultra-nationalist Oleg Tiahnybok, leader of the Svoboda Party, Soviet-era dissident Levko Lukyanenko and former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk.
Mykola Tomenko, parliament deputy speaker and a member of Tymoshenko’s eponymous bloc (BYuT), said opposition rallies would get bigger and louder in the coming weeks and month. “We have to work systemically in villages and regions and grow the movement,” Tomenko said. “Everyone must do their part.”
Many opposition protesters were outraged by the size of the police presence; officers surrounded the demonstrators. People said they are treated like criminals and recalled the last time they saw that amount of police was during rallies to protest ex-President Leonid Kuchma in 2001.
Ukrainian opposition protesters sing the Ukrainian national anthem during a rally in front of the parliament in the capital Kyiv on May 11. Thousands protest in Ukraine against what they call President Viktor Yanukovych's "traitorous regime" in the latest of a series of protests that have flared up since the recent deal to extend Russia's lease on a naval base in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
“We booked couple of buses to take people to Kyiv, but later some drivers declined and explained they got a call from police with the treats to take away their license if they take our booking.”
- Mykola Andrushko, deputy head of Tymoshenko’s Vinnytsia party organization.
People who arrived from different parts of Ukraine to protest said many of their friends and colleagues couldn’t make it to the capital.
“We booked couple of buses to take people to Kyiv, but later some drivers declined and explained they got a call from police with the treats to take away their license if they take our booking,” Mykola Andrushko, deputy head of Tymoshenko’s Vinnytsia party organization said. “Some drivers still did it. One bus was stopped in Vinnytsia four times. Police asked for different documents and just was keeping us waiting for hours. One driver’s license was taken away without any explanation. This is outrageous.”
Evgeniya Hrushenko, a student from Vinnytsia, said when she came to the railway station with friends to buy tickets to Kyiv, the ticket counters suddenly closed. “They said they got the order from the station’s police to close. A friend of mine bought a bus ticket, but several buses routes destined to Kyiv were suddenly cancelled due to ‘technical reasons’,” Hrushenko said.
Opposition supporters from Ivano-Frankivsk who bought train tickets to Kyiv and came to the station were asked to produce their passports by the police. “They checked people’s registration and were letting in trains only those who were registered as living in Kyiv. Others were not allowed to board the train. Hundreds of opposition supports from Ivano-Frankisvk couldn’t make it to Kyiv,” two elderly men from Ivano-Frankivsk said. The men declined to give their names.
Opposition supporters from Kyryvj Rih were faced the same difficulties. Accoding Tymoshenko officials from Kryvyi Rih, two of their buses with supporters were stopped just outside Kryvyi Rih and turned back.
“I took a bus from Irpin this morning and it was stopped near Kyiv. The police were asking people where they were going, and then they made us pull over and sit in the bus for almost an hour. It is exactly like Kuchma times are back. I never though it can all repeat again,” said Halyna Stupak of Kirovohrad Oblast.
Ukrainian opposition and pro-presidential lawmakers fight against each other during ratification of the Black Sea Fleet deal with Russia, in parliament in Kyiv on April 27. Ukraine's parliament has voted to extend Russia's lease of a Crimean naval port for the Black Sea Fleet in a chaotic session during which eggs and smoke bombs were thrown. The countries' presidents agreed last week to extend the Russian navy's use of the Sevastopol port for another 25 years after the old lease expires in 2017.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Even people who did not intend to join the protest and just happened to travel to Kyiv today were declined entrance to the capital.
“I am coming from Vinnytsia by a usual bus. Just outside Kyiv, the bus was stopped by the police and we were told we have to wait for couple of hours until we can enter. Police gave us no reason,” said one of the Vinnytsia-Kyiv bus passengers by phone. “Where we stand, there are tens of buses mostly from western Ukrainian cities, like Lviv, Chernivtsi, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr. They all stand beside the road with passengers.”
Volodymyr Dmytrenko, deputy head of the press service for the Kyiv police department, said the extraordinary number of militiament patrolling the event was a precautionary measure. "We just wanted to make sure that if something happened, we would be able to respond quickly and efficiently," he said. His office was unable to provide details about the reported arrest of four members of Tyanibok's Svaboda Party. Sidor Kizin, a lawyer for Svaboda, said the men were detained on European Square following the rally by plainclothes police.
Dmytrenko said he knew nothing about reported attempts to prevent demonstrators from arriving in Kyiv. "That is not our responsibility, but the job of police in the regions." he said.
As protesters rallied outside, some 243 pro-presidential deputies registered for the parliament session and elected Communist Party leader Adam Martyniuk to replace Oleksandr Lavrynovych as first deputy Rada speaker. Lavrynovych left the post in March to become justice minister.
Kyiv Post staff writer Peter Byrne can be reached at email@example.com and Svitlana Tuchynska can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org