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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid