News / Europe

Barricades Tell of Stalemate in Kyiv

Riot police stand in a cordon facing a barricade of anti-government protesters in Kyiv, Feb. 3, 2014.
Riot police stand in a cordon facing a barricade of anti-government protesters in Kyiv, Feb. 3, 2014.
Reuters
A political gulf of historic dimensions divides Ukraine but down the hill from where parliament commenced a new session of mutual loathing on Tuesday, the gap on the ground narrows - to Molotov cocktail range.
 
At the foot of Hrushevsky Street, 20 meters of no man's land, black ice on cobblestone, divides the riot police front line, immobile in black helmets behind tall steel shields, from militants manning barricades built of sacks packed with snow.
 
Round the clock, for over two months, scenes from a mediaeval siege are played out in frozen tableau, battles lines marked by smoke and licks of flame from makeshift braziers.
 
On one side, about 30 policemen in hulking black body armor from head to toe, stand wielding riot staves, barring the way uphill toward an array of government buildings and parliament. Immediately behind them, several dozen reserves and other police officers chat idly, warming themselves by fires, chopping wood to burn, listening to a plangent radio.
 
In front of them, close enough to talk to without shouting - though no one does - a motley crew of radical activists, many carrying clubs and wearing ski masks under green Soviet army helmets, watch from parapets behind walls of plastic sacks and burned out buses packed with tires. Black ruin is everywhere and the air reeks of the charred mayhem left by petrol bombs.
 
However this crisis will end, whether by a use of force, which the president's allies say he rejects, or by some form of compromise, perhaps driven by international mediation to avert civil war, it will take physical form on Hrushevsky Street.
 
Parliament deadlocked
 
At the top of the hill, in the Stalin-era building of the Verkhovna Rada, or Supreme Council, noisy lawmakers are deadlocked over opposition demands for constitutional change to weaken President Viktor Yanukovich, over attempts to force him out and over the trade pact with the European Union which the president turned down in November in favor of aid from Russia.
 
Beyond Kyiv, grand and ancient Slavic capital of the east, the conflict over Ukraine, literally the “Borderland” Russians see between them and “Europe”, the confrontation in which at least six people have died has set Moscow against the West.
 
And ground zero is this area the size of a football field a minute's walk from the debating chamber, by a now blackened, portico gateway to the park around Dynamo Kyiv soccer stadium.
 
On the eastern side, forces of a state bailed out by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin with a $15-billion package of loans and cheaper gas, and of Yanukovich, whose power lies with the wealthy barons of Ukraine's industrial, Russian-speaking east.
 
To the west, their backs to the main protest camp around Maidan - Independence Square - are dozens of people, mostly men, most young, many from Ukrainian-speaking western regions, all convinced Yanukovich is a corrupt pawn of Moscow.
 
For many Ukrainians who support the silent, grim-faced men of the riot squad - the Berkut, or Eagles - these radicals are heirs of “fascist” nationalists who fought Soviet rule and sided with the Nazis who occupied Ukraine in World War Two.
 
Anxiety, normality
 
Oleksy, a senior lieutenant in the police, was spending his umpteenth day holding the line outside parliament. Standing by a water cannon, he said he was curious to know what it was like in the opposing camp: “You know, we just hope we can sort this out,” he said, smiling.
 
Walk for a minute away from the armored standoff outside the Art Museum with its classical columns and stone lions on guard, and the Ukrainian capital seems to be going about its business almost as normal. Office workers head home to the metro station through checkpoints manned by police or protesters. But even among “civilians”, opinion is divided.
 
“This is OK,” said Viktor, a smartly dressed teacher in his 40s as he walked past a watch-tower that militants have erected near Khreshchatyk metro station. Briefcase in hand, praising the protesters, he said: “We're defending our rights.”
 
He was unfazed as a grubby frontline radical strolled past swinging what looked like a modern take on the mediaeval mace.
 
But others in the city are less happy. “It's a disgrace,” snorted another commuter negotiating a militant checkpoint.
 
Sightseeing
 
The area directly behind the opposition frontline has become something of a tourist attraction.
 
Dozens of locals take turns standing on the ice-bound ramparts, taking pictures of the police, snapping “selfies” on their mobile phones and chatting.
 
Right up front, Viktor and Dima, both 28 and from different towns in the west, are in grimmer mood. They have little faith in parliament.
 
“Negotiations? They've been negotiating for two months,” snorted Dima as he warmed his hands on a fire in an oil drum.
 
“We're here until Yanukovich goes, and all the Communists.”
 
A home-made catapult, a siege engine from another age, sits nearby, ready to hurl rocks at the police. From an overlooking balcony, a resident has hung a sign: “People Live Here!”
 
Standing under a poster declaring solidarity from Poland, Viktor, wearing motorbike body protectors, said he had no plan to go back to his job in an electrical store “until victory”.
 
Whether either side in this deeply divided country can hope for such a clear-cut conclusion any time soon, seems unlikely.
 
Just yards away, retired engineer Vasily Fyodorovich was out for a sightseeing stroll to the barricades with his wife.
 
“It's a shame, messing up the city like this,” he said. The opposition, he added, included “fascists” with help from Poland - the historic, Roman Catholic enemy of Orthodox Russians.
 
He would be happy for new elections as a solution - and would vote again for Yanukovich. Above all, he said, echoing the thoughts of many Ukrainians, he wanted the conflict to end:
 
“These are just children here. On both sides,” he said. “We just want to live in peace, like people in other countries.”
 
As the light faded over no man's land, gloom swallowed up a giant, smoke-blackened advertising banner covering the facade of the 19th-century apartment block caught in the middle of the battlefield. Promoting mobile phones in the languages of the teams Ukraine hosted in the European soccer championships of 2012, its cheery, sporting slogan reads: “Forward, Ukraine!”
 
Stuck in stalemate, up the hill in parliament, and down on the street, most Ukrainians can only hope that becomes reality.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs