Ten thousand people, many of them students, gathered in Kyiv to protest against the government’s decision last week to suspend progress towards a trade deal with the European Union (EU) in favour of closer economic ties with Russia.
Ukraine often finds itself in the middle of a Russian-EU tug-of-war.
The trade deal due to be signed in Vilnius would have marked a definite turn to the West.
One demonstrator told euronews: “My heart belongs to Europe, we’re fed up with Russia! We’ve lived under Russian pressure for 300 years, I want to live in Europe,” he said.
A Kyiv student said: “Administrations of other Kyiv universities do not allow students to take part in street rallies, therefore we want them to join us, because we’re strong! The more protesters we have the bigger attention we draw.”
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said the EU should stop meddling in the fate of his rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. He said her imprisonment should not hinder Kyiv’s integration with Europe.
Tymoshenko, who was jailed on abuse of power charges, is on hunger strike over Kyiv’s decision to renew economic ties with Russia.
Pouring scorn on the woman who helped engineer the 2004-05 Orange Revolution that thwarted his first bid at the presidency, Yanukovich said she was part of a ring of criminals and that her fate should lie in the hands of Ukrainian judges.
“The issue of Yulia Tymoshenko should not be a hindrance to Ukraine’s European integration,” Yanukovich said in a television interview broadcast on Wednesday, but filmed late on Tuesday.
“The (Ukrainian) courts, which she has been evading and thereby obstructing justice, should give the answer. What does the European Union have to do with this? Is the European Union a court?” he asked.
Yanukovich has promised to attend the summit, despite his sudden decision to walk away from a landmark deal with the EU.
His comments are sure to cause tension with EU leaders in Vilnius – most likely at a dinner on Thursday.