Ukraine: President Viktor Yanukovich offers top government posts to opposition leaders including Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko

Concessions have failed to placate protesters in a stand-off with police

Kiev

They came armed with metre-long sticks, gas masks and hard hats. But 33-year-old businessman Vasel Gabel and his friends insisted they were not in Kiev’s Independence Square in search of confrontation. It was, they said, a “matter of dignity”.

Like so many of the thousands who turned out on the streets of the Ukrainian capital again yesterday, the eight-strong group of men said their weapons were purely for protection against a police crackdown they fear could come at any time.

In a day of growing tension between demonstrators and police, a group of protesters briefly seized the energy ministry’s headquarters as President Viktor Yanukovych held increasingly desperate talks with opposition leaders. Last night, President Yanukovych offered the job of prime minister to one of the opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The former world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko was offered the post of deputy prime minister. There was no immediate comment from Mr Yatsenyuk. Earlier, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, the Interior Minister in charge of police who is widely despised by protesters, had said efforts to peacefully resolve the unrest were “futile”.

“Of course I am afraid,” said Mr Gabel, who came to Kiev from the western city of Lviv to join the demonstrations. “It is dangerous here, violent. The people are so angry, and the police could come to clear us away at any moment. What will happen then? We need protection.”

After a week in which at least three protesters were killed and hundreds injured, Mr Gabel’s fears seemed justified. Yesterday, the third protester was confirmed to have died of wounds suffered in clashes on Wednesday, when two other protesters died from gunshot wounds. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into multiple claims of anti-government protesters being kidnapped and beaten by police, including members of the elite Berkut anti-riot force.

 

However, authorities have also accused the opposition of orchestrating violence and kidnapping against police officers, which they deny.

Two officers were yesterday released after being kidnapped by opposition protesters, according to Mr Zakharchenko. He said the officers had been tortured during their ordeal and were taken to hospital, thanking peaceful protesters and “foreign countries’ ambassadors” for brokering their release.

Meanwhile, fears were last night growing for the leader of protest group AutoMaidan, which organised motorcade protests outside the homes of high-ranking officials.

Dmytro Bulatov was last seen on Wednesday, the same day that another kidnapped opposition activist, Yuriy Verbytsky, was found dead in a Kiev suburb. Mr Bulatov’s family have appealed for information on his whereabouts.

With few incidents on either side investigated or independently documented, accusations continue to fly, and verifying the claim and counter claim has become increasingly difficult.

The situation in the city is likely to get worse before it gets better, analysts say, and Kiev is braced for the likelihood of more violence today. Since November, Sundays have become the day for protests against President Viktor Yanukovych and his government.

At the barricades on Hruchevs’koho Street near European Square, acrid smoke from six-metre high mounds of burning tires filled the sky yesterday, obscuring the government buildings that lay not far behind it.

An anti-government protestor prepares to throw a molotov cocktail towards police lines near Dynamo Stadium on 25 January 2014 in Kiev An anti-government protestor prepares to throw a molotov cocktail towards police lines near Dynamo Stadium on 25 January 2014 in Kiev  

On the other side, more than 100 riot police stood in tight formation.

Every so often, both sides flinched at the sound of an explosion. “They are heroes, our freedom-fighters,” said Yaruslav, 29, gesturing to a group of men standing on a burnt-out bus on the front line leading chants of “Out Yanukovych!”

Yaruslav said he comes to the protests as often as he can, bringing cigarettes, money and medicine for those in the line of the rubber bullets police have been using to keep crowds at bay.

The protests – in which tens of thousands of people from across Ukraine gather at Independence Square, also known as the Maidan – began in November after the government spurned a long-awaited trade and political deal with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia. For two months, the demonstrations were largely peaceful.

But that changed dramatically a week ago, after parliament rushed through a tough anti-protest law, introducing corrective labour sentences for slandering government officials, banning the tents erected by protesters in the city centre, and paving the way – many believed – for greater use of force to remove demonstrators.

President Yanukovych, who met for a third round of talks with the leaders of Ukraine’s three main opposition groups last night, has vowed to make concessions such as reshuffling his cabinet, amending the anti-protest laws, and involving the opposition in an “anti-crisis” committee.

A special session of parliament is to take place on Tuesday.

For many on the streets yesterday, the promises – which fell far short of opposition demands – rang hollow. “We want to live in a free country where we can speak our minds,” said Yaruslav. “Yanukovych is not a president, he is a dictator, and the only way forward is for him to leave [power] so we can call new elections.”

With protests in at least six other official buildings across the country, the government faces what appears to be a growing backlash in the provinces too.

Extreme groups, such as the far-right Right Sector, have admitted they are taking part in the protests.

Analysts estimate that around 300 members of the loose grouping may be taking part in rioting in Kiev. But they are far outnumbered by the ordinary men, women and children who come to voice their anger.

Crouching low to the ground in a smart beige coat, Yuka, who works in advertising, worked furiously to gather rocks in a sack behind one of the barricades yesterday. “They are for our boys at the front to throw,” she explained with a wry smile.

Yuka said she had come “for the sake of my country”. She added that she wanted Yanukovych to step down, and would support a run by Klitschko, the leader of Udar (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform).

“I respect him,” she said of Yaruslav. However, she dismissed the idea that Klitschko would be any better. Having threatened on Wednesday to go on the “attack” if elections were not called within 24 hours, he has since tried to maintain calm.

“I don’t believe in leaders any more,” said Yaruslav. “I only believe in the people now.”  

Leaning on his stick, Mr Gabel says the “big question” everyone in the Maidan is now asking is how this stalemate will end. What protesters know for sure, he said, is that this is a battle for the future of Ukraine.

“This is more than a fight about the EU now, this is a matter of dignity,” he said.

““If I don’t fight today, the government could close the door on my rights. My great, great grandparents fought for independence.

“Now I am here. I have two small children and I don’t want them to have to stand here again, fighting the same fight in 20 years’ time. It cannot go on.”

Read more:
Ukraine protests: police officer shot dead as violence continues in Kiev despite 'concessions'
Ukraine protests profile: Is heavyweight boxing champion turned politician Vitali Klitschko the man to rescue his country’s future?
Ukraine protests: what exactly is going on in Kiev?
Ukraine opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok urges demonstrators for truce as protesters seize government building in Kiev  
Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment