Designer stores and EU donuts inside Kiev’s barricades
The streets are blocked with barricades of barbed wire and sacks of snow, but inside Kiev's protest zone commuters are still rushing to work, designer stores are open for business and demonstrators are buying EU-themed souvenirs.
One month into the mass protests, the heart of the capital at times resembles a city under siege but everyday life continues even inside the barricades.
For some, the protest over the government’s rejection of a key EU pact late last month is a chance to sell Ukrainian and European Union flags — or even EU-inspired donuts with blue icing and golden stars.
But many complained that sales were down as ordinary customers stayed away, while the blockades and periodic metro station closures made coming to work a nightmare.
The Globus shopping centre’s glass roof has been draped with flags of the Svoboda nationalist party and a giant portrait of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Most of the shopping centre is located underneath Independence Square, known as the Maidan, the hub of the protests, with its main entrance above ground inside the barricades.
‘The regulars don’t come’
Inside the mall, many were slumped at cafe tables, warming up from the protests, but stores selling designer labels such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein were empty.
“There are very few people. They come in to get warm and drink tea and vodka and cognac — and then there are the constant political debates,” said Tatyana, a 26-year-old waitress at a pizzeria.
“We aren’t getting income. Here there are high prices and the people on Maidan have moderate earnings,” she said. “The regular customers don’t come.”
Lana, a perfectly coiffed blonde, sat in an empty store selling Swarovski crystals.
“It’s very hard to get to work. We have worked through all the barricades and stormings. It’s very scary and the people who come in are not always friendly,” the 40-year-old said.
“There are no customers, so it’s hard for the management to pay rent and salaries,” she added.
“Personally I don’t like it.”
But others saw a business opportunity, with doughnut stalls selling jam-filled “European donuts” iced with the EU flag for 6.5 hryvnia (80 US cents). A sign promised a “delicious novelty.”
“It’s a new thing. Of course people are buying them,” said Yana from the central Vinnitsa region, who was serving at a stall in an underground passageway leading to the metro.
But she said that the protests made her job harder.
“It’s bad for me personally. See what the passageway looks like, it’s dirty and there are homeless people. It was never like that before.”
Many mourned the artificial New Year’s fir tree usually erected in the square, after the authorities used its installation as an excuse to try to forcefully clear protesters from the site.
Now the tree’s green plastic branches have been used to reinforce barricades, while the still-standing conical structure features a giant image of Tymoshenko.
“There’s no New Year’s tree, nothing, this year, and people won’t come here to celebrate New Year’s,” said Yana.
‘Standing up for their rights’
Nevertheless, some who work within the barricades said they backed the protesters’ goals to ditch President Viktor Yanukovych and bring Ukraine closer to the European Union after violent crackdowns on demonstrators.
Carefully tying a Ukrainian flag and a red-and-black nationalist ribbon round a customer’s wrist, Galina, who runs a souvenir stall, praised the protests.
“I’m glad people are really standing up for their rights. They are so sick of putting up with all this,” the grey-haired woman in a woolly waistcoat said.
“I support the people who freeze here. My son comes and spends the night on the square. If there isn’t a revolution, this mafia will strangle the people.”
Her best-sellers at the moment are flags and scarves featuring Ukrainian and EU flags, she said.
Svetlana, a waitress at a small cafe inside the central post office, interrupted her work to join in a political debate with protesters at one table.
“We have constant discussions. They’re politicians. The only people who come here are politicians,” she said with a smile.