Before Sunday’s huge rally in Kyiv, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko warned that police would respond if there was what he called ‘mass disturbances’.
And, in an apparent bid to defuse tensions, President Viktor Yanukovich, who rejected an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia, said he would still do all in his power to speed up Ukraine’s moves towards the EU.
Some are unconvinced.
“This is not the plan of the opposition” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who leads the party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“This is the plan of the Ukrainian people to reinstall democracy in my country. People ask for justice. As a first step, we urge the government of Ukraine to resign and we claim for snap elections.”
Coming a day after a police crackdown on protesters in Independence Square, Sunday’s rally was by far the biggest seen in Kyiv since the Orange Revolution nine years ago.
“He’s my son,” said one demonstrator carrying a small boy on his shoulders. “Today we are fighting for him. And he is taking part in one of the most important events in Ukraine’s history.”
“I took part in the Orange Revolution in 2004,” another man added. “Then, like many others, I was disappointed with the revolution. For nine years, I have been apathetic about politics and a week ago I did not take part in rallies. But after the peaceful demonstration was broken up with batons, I realised that I should not remain on the sidelines because the situation could become worse.”
Yanukovich must have known his decision to reject Europe and turn to Ukraine’s former Soviet master would have caused a strong reaction. Many may wonder whether he was prepared for such a sustained and intense protest.