The last of the hardcore protesters on Kyiv's Independence Square accepted the inevitable Sunday and took down their last remaining canvas tents following scuffles and the burning of tires three days earlier. They are leaving but not without ill-feelings towards Ukraine's new, post-revolution government.
One of the protesters, Alexandra, has a nasty cut on her nose, courtesy of a baton-wielding policeman, and a heavy heart. The 30-year-old student has been in Kyiv's Independence Square, or Maidan, since the start last November of months of bloody protests that eventually led to the February ouster of president Viktor Yanukovych, now in exile in Russia.
She surveys the Maidan and sees souvenir stalls where once there had been the protesters' canvas tents and she is angry with the government and Kyiv's new mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former world boxing champion, who was one of the most prominent leaders of the protest movement and who has insisted Independence Square return to normal.
"This new government in Ukraine has no difference with the old government because nothing has changed for the Ukrainian's people," says Alexandra.
Protesters reclaim their belongings, including a battered fridge, Independence Square, Kyiv, Ukraine, Aug. 11, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
Mayor Klitschko disputes that, and on Thursday he ordered police to start the final phase to clear the square, prompting scuffles and the burning of tires by diehard protesters. The demonstrators say that with their departure the pressure will be off the post-revolution government to enact reforms.
In a press statement, Klitschko said he had tried to negotiate with the hardcore protesters, many of whom are members of right-wing nationalist groups, arguing most people want downtown Kyiv to return to normal and for there to be order in the city center. He said the main demands of the Maidan uprising have been met with Yanukovych gone and reforms under way.
Twenty-one-year-old Irina, a petite blond who like Alexandra has been in the Maidan since late last year, disagrees. She is visibly upset as some of her comrades take down the next to last tent in the square and load their few belongings, including a battered fridge and posters, onto a truck.
"People who live in Kyiv, say go. They don't want us. But they don't think about their government. They don't think of the work we have done. We are trying to change our system," said Irina.
Protester tents are replaced by a Ukrainian Army recruitment tent, Independence Square, Kyiv, Ukraine, Aug. 11, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
In recent weeks the Maidan encampments have shrunk in size. Some younger men have joined volunteer battalions to fight pro-Russian separatists in the east. For many the square remains a stirring symbol of people power. It was here, overlooking the Maidan, where more than a hundred demonstrators were gunned down in the final days of the rebellion against former president Yanukovych.
But many Ukrainians say the focus now should be on the conflict with Russia in the east. Fears are rising that Russian President Vladimir Putin might intervene to save separatists in the eastern-most Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk from defeat at the hands of an increasingly confident Ukrainian army.
More than 1,100 people have died since the Ukrainian army began its "anti-terrorist" operation in the east, say U.N. officials.
As the rebels struggle to hold back Kyiv's forces, Western leaders have accused Russia of massing troops again on the border.
Putin has argued that Russian peacemakers may be needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis but Ukraine leaders say that is an excuse to send in troops.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that 1,100 civilians had died since the Ukrainian army offensive started.