News / Europe

    Ukrainians Rally for Unity Amid Fear of Division

    Ukrainians Stage Mass Unity Rally in Kyivi
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    Steve Herman
    March 23, 2014 7:44 PM
    Thousands of Ukrainians held a unity rally in the heart of their capital, a day after elite Russian forces stormed and took control of the last major Ukrainian military bases in Crimea. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Kyiv's Independence Square.
    Ukrainians held a unity rally in the heart of their capital, a day after elite Russian forces stormed and took control of the last major Ukrainian military bases in Crimea.
     
    The theme for the rally is Ukrainian unity, but everyone is aware this is a country physically divided.
     
    The country's anthem begins: "Ukraine's freedom and glory has not yet died." It reminds Ukrainians of the fragility of their country.

    • Priests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church offer prayers to kick off a national unity rally. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • A paramilitary officer shows off the large tent in which he has been living for the past four months in Kyiv's central square. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Two men sit atop an armored personnel carrier in downtown Kyiv. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • A man wearing a Ukranian flag listens to speakers at a unity rally in Maidan, central Kyiv. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Hundreds remain encamped in central Kyiv's Maidan (Independence Square) even after the old government was ousted. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • A large burnt-out office building sits adjacent to the Maidan, where violent protests led to the ouster of Ukraine's government. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Participants at a unity rally in central Kyiv unfurl a giant flag. (Steve Herman/VOA)
    • Visitors to Maidan look at a makeshift memorial for two of the more than 100 people killed in anti-government protests earlier this year. (Steve Herman/VOA)
     
    The Crimean peninsula, less than 700 kilometers from Kyiv, has been annexed by Russia. Pro-Russian groups on Ukraine's eastern and southern mainland could soon request a referendum on whether to join Russia.
     
    A month after deadly street protests drove out the country's pro-Russian president, the situation is anything but normal.
     
    Maidan, which means "square," has been Ukraine's nerve center for public political activity since the fall of the Soviet empire. Those on the square said they expect to remain for months, perhaps even past the May 25th presidential election.
     
    A captain with the Ukraine Interior Troops [National Guard], who only wanted to be identified as Sasha, has been camping in the square for four months and has no plans to leave anytime soon.
     
    "I will lay down my life here, another one will down his life, four more will too. Because we are Banderstadt [patriots], we are Ukrainians, we are the nation," said Sasha.    
     
    Noting the reversals after the 2004 Orange Revolution, many here, such as dentist Tatiana Turkot, are skeptical the interim government, with its familiar faces, will put Ukraine on a stable path to democracy.
     
    "For 20 years we have not been lucky with any government we have had.  The movement in this square is a chance for us now to finally be able to reach freedom and equality.  No more of our young men should have to die," said Turkot.  
     
    While the Maidan demonstrations, which began last November, were generally viewed globally as a pro-European and anti-Russian movement, the participants say it is more than that.
     
    Writer and poet Maria Vlad explained that the demonstrators yearn for rule of law in a country where corruption became systemic.
     
    "Here [this square] is Ukraine. Here the real Ukraine begins. Everything that we see and hear in Maidan, the songs, the history, the films about our liberation movement, it all led to the moment Ukraine became free," said Vlad.
     
    Change is occurring quickly.  While Russia was swallowing Crimea, the interim government signed a political cooperation pact with the European Union.
     
    In this square, Ukrainian loyalists can only wonder what the coming days will bring - either a new era in alignment with Europe or further division of the country through Russian occupation.

    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
    March 24, 2014 11:11 AM
    As viewed from Russia, the ultranationalist and ultra-right activists from predominately Svoboda party of Ukraine don’t understand that with their hasty Russian and Semitic intolerance in the country with huge Russian presence they have harmed the noble exploit of Ukranian people for the liberation from the tyrany. Even more, those extremists have given enough examples of their readiness to fists fights in public and other illegal extreemes. It’s hardly welcomed in Moscow and other capitals of multinational Europe that had suffered dearly from national-socialists and such attitude in the XX-th century. No wonder that voices in the State Duma of Russia are becoming louder and louder, more appealing to Poland, Hungary and Germany to dismember ultranationalist and ultra-right Ukraine before it has become late.

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