About 2,000 anti-government protesters yesterday huddled by braziers in their main tented camp in snowbound Kiev, in defiance of riot police who herded them away from government buildings overnight.
Dozens of riot police removed barricades leading to the offices of the president, Cabinet and parliament. Protesters regrouped at Independence Square in central Kiev, where they have set up a makeshift tent village, complete with a stage where singers and speakers provide around-the-clock entertainment.
The president’s standard, a blue flag with a gold trident in the center, flew outside his office, signaling that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was at work — possibly the first time since protests erupted on Nov. 21 over his decision to scrap a trade pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Demonstrators had feared the arrival of the riot police on Monday heralded a plan to crush the protests, but there was none of the violence seen last week, when dozens of protesters were wounded.
With the crisis weighing on an economy already on the brink of bankruptcy, Yanukovych was to hold talks with three former Ukrainian presidents yesterday. He was expected to meet EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton yesterday or today.
Ilya Shutov, a former miner from the eastern city of Donetsk, said the protesters would stay until Yanukovych left office.
“We were for the EU association agreement because we thought it would force our authorities to be civilised. Their refusal of Europe is a refusal to be civilized,” he said.
“Our goal is to get rid of the Soviet-like authorities,” he said.
Visiting Moscow, US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland made a new appeal for calm in Kiev.
She “expressed US deep concern about the situation in Ukraine, and urged Russia to use its influence to press for peace, human dignity and a political solution,” the US embassy in Moscow said in a statement.
“The US supports Ukraine’s European choice, a non-violent and just political resolution to the current standoff, and a return to economic health with the support of the International Monetary Fund,” it said.
However, Russia’s lower house of parliament was expected to approve a statement rejecting interference in Ukraine by Western politicians, following a visit to the protests last week by Germany’s foreign minister.
In Kiev, liberals and nationalists have taken to the streets for demonstrations that have at times drawn hundreds of thousands. Thousands have also maintained an around-the-clock protest camp in the city center, blocked roads, besieged government buildings and occupied the capital’s city hall.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched on Sunday, the second weekend in a row that such huge crowds have vented fury at a government they accuse of returning the country to Kremlin control. In a potent symbol, they tore down and smashed the capital’s main statue of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union.
A week earlier, baton-wielding police injured scores of people at similar demonstrations. The police have since held back from using force to dislodge the protesters, but gave them five days from Thursday last week to leave the streets.
The protesters say they will not go.
“We will stand here till the end to defend our rights,” said Sergei Kuzan, 29, a lawyer, part of a self-appointed security team ready to defend barricades at the main tented camp in Independence Square. “My task is not to let the police through, nor the provocateurs.”