Little Mood for Compromise on Kiev's Battered Independence Square

Little Mood for Compromise on Kiev's Battered Independence Square

Petro Nazapo sharpens a wooden table leg with his penknife as he prepares for another night at the barricade of sandbags and barbed wire.

Behind him, masked protesters were putting the finishing touches to a makeshift wood-and-tarpaulin storehouse full of glass bottles and jerry cans of fuel — ingredients for the Molotov cocktails hurled at police.

A day earlier, just a few metres away, security forces had opened up with automatic rifles on demonstrators carrying homemade shields, leaving bodies scattered in the smouldering rubble of Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicentre of three months of demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovych.

Shellshocked and uncertain, but still refusing to back down, protesters were struggling to digest the events of the past few days: a brutal police assault, a bloodbath and now a glimmer of victory.

Their leaders had just signed a deal with Yanukovych that should change the constitution, set up a coalition government and see early elections held in December — essentially much of what many the protesters had been demanding all along.

Yet despite some 40,000 people of all ages streaming to the square on Friday evening, the atmosphere was muted and opinions mixed.

The one point that kept them firmly united: Yanukovych must go. Now.

When a speaker from jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party suggested that Yanukovych should be allowed to leave the country to avoid more bloodshed, many in the crowd objected loudly.

Later in the evening, as darkness fell and crowds swelled, opposition leaders received a mixed reaction when they took to the stage.

Hailed up till now, those who signed the deal with Yanukovych were whistled in derision as they walked on stage. The cheers were reserved for nationalist leaders who pledged to storm the presidency if Saturday if Yanukovych didn’t resign.

– Grim reminders everywhere –

Around the ravaged, soot-stained square, signs of Thursday’s killings were evident.

Men in balaclavas held a wooden board with the pictures of two protesters — one aged 43 the other 29 — gunned down by security forces, with candles, flowers and the helmets of dead arranged in front.

As the crowd shuffled into the square, people stopped to take off their hats, cross themselves and drop money into a collection box.

Elsewhere on the square the base of a towering monument to Ukrainian independence has been turned into a shrine for the victims, with oversized wreaths leaning against its marble columns.

Some on the square said that they now hoped that life in the conflict-ravaged centre of Kiev could return to some sort of normalcy.

Nearby, young women in aviator sunglasses posed for photos in front of the smouldering rubble as a memento of the history being made on the Maidan, as the square is also known.

But protesters remain adamant that the struggle is not over and they are not going anywhere.

Some are even starting to rebuild the sprawling tent city that was ravaged by fire in the recent fighting.

Overseeing young men as they put together a blue and white striped tent, Catholic priest Michael Dudar is resurrecting a church tent that went up in flames.