Ukraine protests: Not quite a million, but no end in sight

Opposition leaders had vowed to assemble 1 million protesters in Kiev on Sunday to keep up pressure on President Yanukovych amid reports of a trade pact with Russia. 

Sergei Grits/AP
Activists rally outside government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, protesting the government's decision to spurn closer ties with the EU.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered Sunday on the streets of Kiev in a show of strength that, while impressive, fell short of opposition calls for a 1 million-strong rally that would have topped last weekend’s turnout. The large crowds, and signs of an increasingly slick protest camp in the heart of Ukraine’s capital, point to a protracted standoff over the country’s political future.

For the past three weeks, demonstrators have demanded the resignation of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, over his refusal to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Adding fuel to the fire, President Yanukovych met Friday in Russia with President Vladimir Putin, reportedly to discuss a customs union between Ukraine and Russia, a move that is bitterly opposed by protesters in Kiev.

Opposition leaders had spent the last few days trying to galvanize their supporters for a big turnout. “Tomorrow there should be a million of us and we will make Yanukovych fulfill our demands. Tomorrow depends on each of us,” boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko told people gathered in Independence Square on Saturday evening.

“Those who can't get to Kiev, take to the streets in your cities and show your intention to live in a modern European country, the name of which is Ukraine.”

Early estimates placed the number of demonstrators in Kiev at 100,000-200,000, with the square so packed with people that it was hard to move. Last Sunday the crowds swelled to 350,000 after police violently clashed with protesters during an overnight attempt to clear the square. Four hundred people were injured in those clashes.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed former prime minister, sent a statement to her supporters urging them to join the rally. “There must be more of us than last Sunday,” she wrote.

A fresh round of anger flared on Friday when protesters seized on reports that Yanukovych may have signed a trade deal with Russia. Both the Russian and Ukrainian leaderships have denied that such an agreement was signed or even discussed.   

“We don’t know whether he signed anything or not, but irrespective we understand that he is inclined to sign something with Russia,” says Oleh Pluhararenko, a lawyer from Kiev, who held a banner reading: Hey Putin, leave us alone. “Signing something with Russia means we are selling our country to them,” he says.

Over the last few days, the protesters’ infrastructure has improved dramatically. New reinforced tents have been erected throughout the square, barricades have been reinforced, and a food kitchen in a trade-union building prepares and distributes donated hot meals to the crowds gathered in subzero temperatures.  

On Saturday afternoon, thousands of Ukrainian and European Union flags fluttered over the dense crowds, as snow fell all around. A string of opposition leaders took to the stage, urging those in the square, and those watching on television, to keep up the pressure on Yanukovych to step down.

Policemen stood guarding a nearby statue of Lenin, which protesters had tried to topple last week. Elsewhere antigovernment protesters and pro-government supporters squared off outside another public building, but there were no reports of clashes.

Despite the lower-than-advertised turnout Sunday, protesters seemed undeterred. “Even if there aren’t a million of us there are enough to send a strong message to our politicians,” says Hanna Dzhus, a student from the central city of Vinnytsia. “If they won’t listen to us we must make them. We won’t give up.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Ukraine protests: Not quite a million, but no end in sight
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today