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In Ukraine, Mourning Amid Political Drama

  • Al Pessin

It was a day of mourning on Kiev's Independence Square for the dozens of people killed during the past week's clashes between police and pro-reform protesters, but it played out against a backdrop of political high drama.

The protest camp on Kiev's main square hosted funerals and memorial services Saturday, as thousands of people came out to mourn protesters cut down by police attacks and snipers.

There were prayers and tributes, and tears from people who probably never knew the victims. People stopped at makeshift shrines to pay their respects.

"I am commemorating those who died for our freedom, for people who just want to live a better life," said Olga, a Kiev resident who gave only her first name.

The traditional Ukrainian saying "Glory to the Heroes" took on new meaning as it was displayed on a hillside and repeated as a greeting over and over.

In spite of Friday's political deal for new elections and other concessions by President Victor Yanukovych, protesters took over his office and residences, and police withdrew. Many want him to resign, and there were reports he had done so. But from his power base near the Russian border, he denied them.

People on Kiev's Independence Square had a different, passionate reaction.

"His resignation should be immediate, and not only should he resign, this person should be put in jail," said a man named Mikhail.

"I come here on weekends to show my support because surely we should live in a free country," said Oksana, a bank worker.

Ukrainian entrepreneur and researcher Valerii Pekar says this is a political revolution, but also much more.

"This is a revolution in mentality," he said. "This is a revolution of values, new values against old values. ... It's values of modern society against values of old paternalistic Soviet-style society."

Indeed, these protests started when President Yanukovych pulled back from an economic agreement with the European Union, and made one with Russia instead. That decision could be reversed if Friday's agreement is fulfilled.

But that became less and less clear as the day went on. A rebellious parliament passed a series of laws the president said he won't sign, so it voted to fire him.

It also voted to free his bitter rival, popular former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was in jail for corruption.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister called the protesters "armed extremists" and accused the opposition of breaking the Friday accord.

It was all too much to follow for people who seemed to be trying to return Independence Square to normal. Bullet holes, missing pavement stones and a layer of soot and burned rubber on everything were among the scars from a week of street battles and fires.

And people also wanted to show their pride in what they had accomplished, possibly putting Ukraine on the path to greater democracy, even as they remembered those who had died in the effort.
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