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Ukraine Demands Change



Since November 2013, Ukraine has been gripped by the most serious political crisis since its independence in 1991. What started as public demonstrations protesting against a decision by the government of Viktor Yanukovych, the president, to pull out of final phase negotiations for an association agreement with the EU have turned into a full scale national uprising. Determined protesters, prepared to stay the course in protest camps in towns and cities across the country are now in tense standoffs with tens of thousands of security personnel who have been instructed to practice restraint after riots caused a number of deaths. A cack-handed attempt by the government to criminalise the protests by making the wearing of masks and helmets and the setting up of tents in public spaces illegal only served to harden the resolve of the protesters and garner further support from the population. People from all walks of life - from students and young professionals, to pensioners, priests and people from the countryside, each with their own intense sense of dissatisfaction with the present government - have shown their support at focal point such as Maidan Nezaleshnosti in central Kiev. Protesters have also occupied public buildings around the country and have made it very clear that nothing short of the president's resignation will do to bring the protests to an end. A number of politicians, including former heavy weight champion Vitali Klitschko whose party the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (Udar or 'Punch' as the cyrillic acronym) is in opposition in parliament, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister, have clearly sided with the protests and so far refused to take positions in Yanukovych's cabinet offered to them in an attempt to diffuse the crisis.

The source of the intense dissatisfaction with the government is a product of years of economic stagnation, a breathtaking level of official corruption, nepotistic exploitation of political power by the president and his family for economic gain and a sense among the population that continued association with Russia, which offered to buy Ukrainian bonds and slash prices on gas imports, is ultimately doomed to send Ukraine on a backward trajectory. Though President Yanukovych retains a respectable level of support among the country's Russophile, mainly eastern population it looks like his chances of retaining power and staying the course of his presidency are receding. Espen Rasmussen travelled to Kiev and met some of the protesters from all walks of life who have gathered in the capital to show their support for the protest movement.
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