KYIV— Ukraine’s former president is warning that the country is on the brink of civil war after two months of anti-government protests.
His comments came as lawmakers were debating an amnesty bill for detained protesters - with supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych demanding that demonstrators leave government buildings. But the protesters say they will only leave their barricades after the ouster of the entire government.
The debate was preceded by a stark warning from the country’s former President Leonid Kravchuk.
"All the world realizes and Ukraine realizes that the state is on the brink of civil war." Kravchuk said. "There are parallel authorities in the country and there is a de-facto uprising."
The remains of the large paneled doors at the entrance to Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture hang from the frame. Snow is beginning to drift into the building. Inside, graffiti on the wall reads "Power to the People."
Anti-government protesters had occupied the building earlier this week along with several other ministries.
A member of the state guard - the only branch of Ukrainian police allowed in - explains that the protesters voted to hand the ministry back on Wednesday, as part of negotiations with the government over a prisoner amnesty.
Independence Square has become a protest village within a city, operating by its own rules.
Barricades block the surrounding streets. Protesters have taken over public buildings. Ukrainian House - a convention hall - has become an opposition community center, with a pharmacy, library and legal services.
It’s home to the busy offices of Auto-Maidan - a group of drivers who use their knowledge of Kyiv’s roads to outwit police.
Group leader Andriy Dzyndzia was arrested by undercover police, but released without charge Tuesday. He says only a full political revolution will see protesters leave their posts.
“An amnesty for the prisoners is not enough," says Dzyndzia. “It’s just a start. Because most of the protesters were arrested illegally and put on trial illegally. The whole system needs changing.”
Outside is Hrushevskiy Street - the frontline. Protesters say two of their number were shot dead by police here last week - a charge authorities deny. A shrine marks the spot where one fell.
Demonstrators staged a show of strength Wednesday to mark the anniversary of street battles in 1919, when hundreds of students died fighting Russian forces.
The protesters of 2014 see their cause as no less historic.
“Ukrainians came out on the streets not to get an amnesty, or to fight or anything else; we came out for our rights, to be able to live a normal life," says Ihor, who leads a unit of the self-declared Maidan Defense Forces. “Because Ukraine is a great European nation. We don’t want Russia or anyone to intrude into our domestic affairs,” he said.
Behind police lines, Ukraine’s lawmakers continue to debate the details of a deal to end the standoff.
But in Independence Square, protesters say they will accept nothing less than the ouster of the president.