KYIV, UKRAINE —
Russia's moves to annex Ukraine's Crimea have overshadowed the protesters in Kyiv, who remain camped out demanding political reform. Moscow claims the Ukrainian capital is in chaos, with extremists controlling the government and streets. The city center is peaceful, though, and police say volunteers have helped drop crime to levels not seen since the Soviet era.
As world powers argue over the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Kyiv's Independence Square, known as the "Maidan," remains occupied. Hundreds of protesters, who helped oust President Viktor Yanukovich, say they will not leave until corrupt politics in Ukraine are reformed.
The head of the 14th Maidan Self Defense group, Volodymir Pak, has been here since the protests began in November. "At a minimum, [we will stay] until the end of the presidential election [May 25], as well as parliamentary elections at the end of 2015," he said.
Moscow justifies its moves in Crimea by saying extremists took over Kyiv during clashes with security forces that cost nearly a hundred lives.
But, while there are some marauding and menacing-looking gangs, the protest camp is remarkably peaceful.
Joint patrols of volunteer self-defense groups and police are largely responsible, according to Sergey Kolchanov, who helped organize them.
"We called all the guys who were already patrolling the streets, organized a common meeting, and agreed among ourselves to set aside our differences because there are all kinds of people here and all kinds of political views," said Kolchanov.
Police lieutenant colonel Oleksandr Bilkonnyy, who leads the Shevchenko district patrol department, said the joint patrols restored faith in police and dropped street crime to levels not seen since Soviet era.
"I see that people want to continue cooperating with us as defenders of public peace. I think this is a good idea because it means public oversight over us, how we work and, on the other hand, we receive support from the public," said Bilkonnyy.
Police often patrol without uniforms, however, to avoid reviving tensions. And, while the streets are relatively calm, Ukraine's politicians face not only the might of Russia, but fulfilling the expectations of their own people.
Volodymyr Groysman, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister for regional policy, said, "The most important thing is that they have demands for the government. The government is not a separate entity. Those governing bodies have to carefully weigh each of their steps, and service society in good faith and honorably. If they do this, then they will end well."
As the sun sets on Independence Square, Ukrainians hope for a new dawn bringing them peace and better leadership.