Ukrainians gathered in Kiev to remember and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, viewed as the country’s greatest poet, but also to bring the country together while pro-Ukrainians and pro-Russians fight over Crimea.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk addressed the crowd:
“This is our land,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to writer and nationalist Taras Shevchenko. “Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.”
“We’re one country, one family and we’re here together with our kobzar (bard) Taras,” said acting President Oleksandr Turchynov.
Many of these same Ukrainians lived on the streets of Kiev for three months to protest then Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject a trade deal with the European Union and accept a $15 billion bailout from Russia. They succeeded, and parliament ousted him on February 22. However, the ethnic Russians in Crimea, composing 58% of the peninsula’s population, declared allegiance to Russia and asked to join the Russian Federation. A referendum is scheduled for March 16.
Yatseniuk said the referendum is illegal along with Russia’s occupation of the peninsula. He announced he will travel to the US to discuss the situation in Ukraine and Crimea. The US has backed the new Ukrainian government and repeatedly told Russia President Vladimir Putin to pull back forces in Crimea and hold talks with Ukraine. Yatseniuk is scheduled to meet with Obama Wednesday to discuss the situation.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia considers the new government to be illegitimate and will not hold talks until a real leader is in place.