Ukraine Sees Tensions Mount as Protesters Gather in Kiev

European Union

Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered on the streets of Kiev in protest of the leadership of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, The New York Times reports.

The calls of “Gang, get out” echoed throughout the Ukrainian capital during the later parts of the weekend and into Monday, according to the Times. Protestors have risen up against Yanukovich’s presidency in a manner that resembles the so-called Orange Revolution of nearly 10 years ago. This time, however, the issue at stake is not election fraud — it is economics. The protesters have been touched off by Yanukovich’s refusal to sign a deal with the European Union that would move the Ukraine closer to the Western block of nations.

Yanukovich’s veto stopped last-minute attempts to broker a deal, which fell apart during a summit in Vilnius late last week, The New York Times reports. Though the European Union was offering customs reductions and millions of euros in financing, the Ukrainian president felt as if the package was insufficient to warrant consideration. Instead, he has ostensibly chosen to side with the Russians, who are the main suppliers of natural gas into the Ukraine and thus control the country’s energy pipelines, literally and metaphorically.

Other issues have united the protesters, as well. The current regime is known for its corruption, placing political allies in positions of power without consideration of merit and siphoning off large sums of money in kickbacks. In addition, a feeling of injustice pervades those gathered in Kiev, the Times says. Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of the opposition, remains housed in prison despite the charges of the crimes that she has allegedly committed remaining nebulous. Her release was initially a condition of a potential deal with the EU, though it was one that Yanukovich vehemently opposed.

The protesters have occupied Independence Square in Kiev, with many pitching tents to stay the night. The New York Times reports that they blocked officials from going to work in the Cabinet Ministry building, and protestors have set up headquarters in the Trade Unions house after taking over that building, as well. The government has called in additional police forces and military troops to control the crowds, though outbreaks of violence have fortunately remained scarce so far.

Opposition leaders have been meeting in secret both with each other and with the government to try and find a peaceful solution to the unrest, according to the Times. Though many of the opposition parties disagree on their political goals, they have been united by a common enemy in Yanukovich. Vitali Klitschko, a boxing champion and political activist, said, “We must mobilize everyone across the country and not lose the initiative,” according to the BBC. He was referring to the recent bout of uprisings against Yanukovich’s rule. For his part, the president has shown no signs of backing down.

Don’t Miss: Is the GOP Backing Away from Immigration Reform?