Ukrainian protesters turned out in droves in Kiev on Sunday, barricading government buildings and locking themselves inside city hall. The protests continued on Monday as demonstrators rally against the current government, angered by the last-minute rejection of an EU integration pact that would strengthen ties with the Union.
The BBC reports that government workers are unable to reach their offices, and that hundreds of people have set up tents in Independence Square. On Monday, members of the Ukrainian government echoed protesters’ call for President Viktor Yanukovych to step down, “stop political repression,” and release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is being held in jail for abuse of power.
Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak said on Monday that it was not necessary to call a state of emergency and refused to put Yanukovych’s resignation to a vote, despite pressure from opposition leaders.
Sunday’s protests were the largest since the Orange Revolution of 2004, which similarly targeted anger towards Yanukovych, only then it was for election fraud. Those protests resulted in Yanokovych’s stepping down, but he returned to office after defeating Tymoshenko in 2010.
Early estimates put the turnout at roughly 350,000, but The New York Times reported today that roughly one million were present at the gathering, which was strangely seasonally appropriate today:
After a huge rally on Sunday - a crowd estimated at a million or more that observers said exceeded even the largest gatherings of the Orange Revolution nine years ago - the demonstrators overnight blocked city streets, using Christmas decorations and police barricades intended to stop the protest. The result was an oddly festive, fir-trimmed encampment at the heart of the Ukrainian capital. Protest leaders, sensing that momentum had turned to their advantage, continued to add infrastructure to their operation, bringing in television monitors and erecting a small tent city that included first-aid stations and canteens.
Some government officials reportedly resigned over the weekend, and others took a public stand against police violence. Wealthy Ukrainian businessmen appeared prepared for a political shift. The Associated Press reports that some local officials in western Ukraine are turning against the national government:
The mayor of Lviv called on the people there to protest and warned that police would take off their uniforms and defend the city if the central government sends reinforcements. Scores of protesters from Lviv and elsewhere in western Ukraine headed to Kiev by train and cars to take part in the rallies.
The EU pact would have opened up trade and eased travel restrictions between Ukraine and Europe. Now Russia, which allegedly pressured Ukrainian leaders to opt out of the EU deal, is offering Kiev cheaper gas in exchange for a commitment to a Kremlin-led economic agreement.