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Home News Haggard protesters hold two-month vigil in Kiev’s city hall

Haggard protesters hold two-month vigil in Kiev’s city hall

Published on 30/01/2014

Stretched out on a makeshift mattress, Petro rubbed his eyes, still swollen with sleep, and sighed: "We must hold on in order to get results."

After two months of occupying Kiev’s city hall, Ukrainian protesters may look hollow-eyed but are keeping up a ceaseless vigil.

Asked what he hopes to achieve, Petro said: “Beating this criminal regime and living in a normal European country.”

But he admitted he would also love to “go back home.”

A stocky man from the city of Ternopil in western Ukraine, Petro is one of the volunteer security guards in the imposing building on Kiev’s main Kreshchatyk thoroughfare, which is now dotted with tents put up by the protesters.

Petro keeps watch for four hours before resting for four hours and then returning to his post.

The city hall was one of the first “trophies” for the Ukrainian protesters.

They occupied the building on December 1 during a rally of several hundred thousand people expressing outrage at the violent dispersal of student protesters on the central Independence Square.

The building swiftly became the main living quarters for the protest movement, even equipped with an improvised medical centre. Protesters arriving from the regions found a place to sleep on gym mats rolled out on landings above the main function room.

Two months later, it has become a well-oiled operation. Protesters pinched with cold take refuge inside and watch parliamentary sessions on a giant screen.

But the atmosphere has changed, following the radicalisation of the protests as the activists take refuge behind ever more formidable barricades.

On the staircase that leads to the vast function room, dominated by banners of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda, or Freedom Party, barbed wire is intertwined with festive garlands from New Year’s celebrations.

At the entrance, doormen in jeans and anoraks search visitors.

‘We are fighting for our future’

To move from one part of the building to another, visitors must show a white pass and receive permission from the “commander”, Ruslan Andriiko, who has set up an “office” on a podium. Those who do not may be removed by the tightly controlled security operation.

“People are tired. They have been here two months already.” said Andriiko, who acts as a youth leader in Svoboda.

“But we are fighting for our future. If we leave now, (President Viktor) Yanukovych will be in power eternally and we will live under a dictatorship,” said the 27-year-old, his face covered with three days’ stubble, looking wearied by the constant tension.

Security forces attempted to dislodge the protesters occupying the city hall on December 11. But they beat a retreat after being drenched with water from a fire hose amid sub-zero temperatures.

Even though most of the rooms inside the city hall are still accessible to officials, the authorities are infuriated by the occupation, as well as by that of a trade union headquarters on Independence Square, which has become the main operations centre.

In the last few days, protesters have seized the Ukrainian House, a conference centre that was being used as a police base as well as around half of the regional administration buildings outside Kiev.

The interior ministry has recently accused the protesters of using the municipal buildings to store weapons supplied by extremist groups.

Sitting on the floor, Slava, a young man from the staunchly nationalist western Lviv region, acknowledged that the atmosphere was tense.

“The first time I came here, everything was very organised. There were a lot of volunteers,” he said.

But now, “I don’t like all these masked faces, and it is becoming more difficult because people are tired,” he said.

But he said there was no question of leaving yet.

“We must act,” he said. “We must win.”