Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was expected to return home yesterday after a trip to China as his government seeks to quell the biggest protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Protesters have since Sunday controlled Kiev’s Independence Square, surrounded government ministry buildings and held pickets outside parliament where opposition deputies have paralyzed any work.
The protests have raged for over two weeks after Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a historic pact for closer links to the EU under Russian pressure.
In China, Yanukovych met the top Chinese Communist Party leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), but it was not clear if he received hope of the urgent financial support Ukraine requires for its ailing economy.
About 1,500 people were still in Independence Square yesterday, with light snow covering dozens of tents and protesters warming themselves with hot tea, as the city braced for a new mass protest planned for tomorrow.
“People stand as before, no one is going anywhere,” said Zynovii, 36, one of the self-styled guards of the tent city.
Leaving Kiev yesterday after Thursday’s meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bidlt said there were “critical days” ahead for Ukraine. He said on Twitter he feared “that forces wanting Ukraine to abandon European road will not shy away from using violence. Wisdom and leadership required by all.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to portray the crisis as overblown.
“This situation is linked to the hysterics that certain Europeans went into over the fact that Ukraine, using its sovereign right, decided at this stage not to sign certain agreements that Ukrainian experts and authorities found disadvantageous,” the Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying in Kiev.
There was some suggestion Yanukovych could visit Moscow on his way back from China. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said last weekend such a stopover would happen “without a question.” On Thursday, neither Yanukovych’s office nor Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman confirmed that would happen.
Ukraine’s jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko meanwhile called on the West to impose sanctions against Yanukovych and his family.
“Targeted sanctions against him and his family are the only language he understands,” the former prime minister, who has launched a hunger strike in solidarity with the protesters, was quoted as saying by her lawyer.
The opposition has demanded the resignation of the government and snap presidential elections.
It has called a new mass protest for tomorrow at midday local time.