Ukrainians came out on Sunday in their largest numbers since the 2004 Orange Revolution to protest against last week’s surprise government decision to postpone signing a historic integration deal with the EU this week.
A crowd estimated at close to 100,000 people thronged central Kiev, scene of the pro-democracy uprising nine years ago, despite cold weather and fog. The demonstration followed smaller gatherings in previous days in the capital and other cities by Ukrainians angered by the apparent shift by Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovich towards closer relations with Russia.
The protest was initially peaceful, with only a limited police presence. But there were reports of clashes with police after one column of demonstrators headed towards Ukraine’s government building, and by mid-afternoon police reinforcements were being bussed into central Kiev with sirens heard throughout the city.
“We see our leadership has done a U-turn. Looking at this crowd, [the government] must realise it’s time to reconsider their decision,” said Natalia Levchyk, who saw the benefits of living in the EU first-hand, having briefly worked there some years ago. “To be with the EU is obviously better for us and our children than with Russia,” she added, holding the hand of her six-year old daughter Oleksandra.
Metres away, amid a mixed crowd of youths, parents and pensioners, 41-year-old Andriy Kruty held his young daughter Sonia, with his wife Magda alongside.
“Ukraine should be with the EU. Our government and president live in luxury because they write laws for their own good, leaving us all scrambling. These EU agreements will tie us into reforms that are needed to end corruption, cronyism, kleptocracy . . . to improve our lives and the future for our children,” he said. “If the government refuses to sign, protests will grow. If they crush the protests, there will be bloodshed triggering a full-blown revolution.”
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