On day one of official campaigning ahead of Ukraine’s general election in October the country is split.
Hundreds of demonstrators turned up outside the Rada, the country’s parliament, to protest against a bill to make Russian the second official language in the predominantly Russian speaking areas of the country.
In reality that means 13 out of Ukraine’s 20 regions including the capital Kiev.
The law introduced by President’s Victor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions has been passed by parliament earlier this month.
But the president of the chamber refuses to sign it into law and has tendered his resignation.
Olexandre Yefremov is a member of the Party of Regions: “It was clear that a solution to this question was delayed and blocked for several years. This question was included in all official programmes of our party, so we thought it necessary to vote on it.”The opposition sees the move as a smokescreen to win votes in areas of the country hit hardest by the economic downturn.
While others claim the populist language issue is being used to distract voters from more pressing and difficult political decisions.
Kostyantyn Matviyenko is a political analyst in Ukraine:
“Keeping in mind all of the social and economic problems, the language issue is very low down the list of what is important to the people. The United opposition, however, will try to keep away from the issue and will try to keep it out of the headlines unless the Party of Regions tries to use it during the campaign”.
As the campaign got underway the main opposition marked the event with a march and announced that former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko will lead the alliance. That could prove complicated as Tymoshenko is currently serving a seven-year jail term for abuse of power.
A sentence that many believe is politically motivated.