Kiev protesters stand defiant - and turn on their leaders over peace deal

Kiev protesters stand defiant and turn on opposition leaders who agreed deal with Yanukovych

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 6:09am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 6:09am

Petro Nazapo sharpens a wooden table leg with his penknife as he prepares for another night at the barricade of sandbags and barbed wire.

"We're preparing for another attack," said the helmeted, middle-aged protester from Lviv in western Ukraine, who has manned this post every night for the past month.

"Only with this can we be sure that we'll win," he said, brandishing his improvised truncheon in the air. "And we will only leave when we've won."

Behind him, masked protesters were putting the finishing touches to a makeshift wood-and-tarpaulin storehouse full of glass bottles and jerry cans of fuel - ingredients for the firebombs hurled at police.

A day earlier, just metres away, security forces had opened up with automatic rifles on protesters carrying homemade shields, leaving bodies scattered in the smouldering rubble of Kiev's Independence Square, the epicentre of three months of demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovych.

Shellshocked and uncertain, but still refusing to back down, protesters struggled to digest the events of the past few days: a brutal police assault, a bloodbath and now a glimmer of victory.

Their leaders had just signed a deal with Yanukovych that should change the constitution, set up a coalition government and see early elections held in December - essentially much of what many the protesters had been demanding all along.

Yet despite some 40,000 people of all ages streaming to the square on Friday evening, the atmosphere was muted and opinions mixed. The one point that kept them firmly united: Yanukovych must go. Now. "Elections in December are not enough. He has to leave now. Otherwise he could end up like Gaddafi or Ceausescu," said Oleh Bukoyenko, wearing a ribbon reading "Glory to the heroes".

When a speaker from jailed former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's party suggested Yanukovych be allowed to leave the country to avoid more bloodshed, many objected loudly.

"No, no, no," they shouted back, waving their index fingers in the air.

"It was a crime against humanity and Yanukovych should be sent to The Hague," said Kiev resident Sergei Yanchukov, 58, sipping coffee from a paper cup.

As darkness fell and crowds swelled, opposition leaders received a mixed reaction when they took to the stage.

Hailed up until now, those who signed the deal with Yanukovych, such as former boxer Vitaly Klitschko, were whistled in derision. The cheers were reserved for nationalist leaders who pledged to storm the presidency if Yanukovych didn't resign.

Around the ravaged, soot-stained square, signs of Thursday's killings were evident.

Men in balaclavas held a wooden board with pictures of two protesters - one aged 43 the other 29 - gunned down by members of the security forces, with candles and flowers arranged in front.

As the crowd shuffled into the square, people stopped to take off hats, cross themselves and drop money into a collection box.

Elsewhere on the square the base of a towering monument to Ukrainian independence has become a shrine for the victims, with oversized wreaths leaning against its marble columns.

Some on the square said they now hoped life in the conflict-ravaged centre of Kiev could return to some sort of normality.

"We've reached the peak and it can't get any worse than it's been," said Natasha Naraevskaya, holding open a garbage bag as her daughter swept up rubbish. "We're not terrorists, we're just normal people."

Nearby, young women in sunglasses posed for photos in front of the smouldering rubble.

But protesters remain adamant that the struggle is not over and they are not going anywhere.

Some are even starting to rebuild the sprawling tent city ravaged by fire in the recent fighting.

Overseeing young men as they put together a blue and white striped tent, Catholic priest Michael Dudar rebuilds a church tent that went up in flames.

"Of course the people are staying here," he said. "The enemy is still alive."