* Protesters wonder about quality of new leaders
* Crimea crisis underlines challenges
By Sabina Zawadzki
KIEV, Ukraine, March 1 In the place that made
the revolution against ousted President Viktor Yanukovich,
hundreds remain to defend its hopes.
As Ukraine's new government confronted a grave crisis of
security on Saturday night, however, there were doubts about the
quality of the new leaders from the people who put them in
As protest leaders took to the stage in Kiev's Independence
Square, or what is popularly called the 'Maidan', to make
speeches about the crisis in Crimea, others - including
families with young children and pensioners - milled about.
Plenty of stalls sold hot tea or coffee.
Although many on the square were quick to say Russia's
incursion into Crimea was a provocation, most were as keen to
discuss their wide distrust of all parts of the state.
"Army? There is no army. It's all on paper. There's no
army," said Kostya, a man who joined in a conversation on the
square where Crimea, and the names of ousted President Viktor
Yanukovich and Russian leader Vladimir Putin were often heard
among people walking in and out of the square.
Sashko, a man in his 50s, had been at the square for three
months and was standing besides Artem, an ethnic Tartar. Both
were dismissive of the new political elite.
"The EU should stop thinking and making statements and
negotiating. It needs to take a concrete decision," he said.
His younger Tartar friend added: "The Tartars in Crimea have
been there for 15 centuries - 15 centuries! It is true that the
Ukrainian Tartars are supporting a unified Ukraine."
However, when asked whether shots would be fired in Crimea,
people immediately said 'no' and the conversation quickly
drifted to Putin's aims and the deficiency of Ukrainian
politicians, unable to fulfil the protesters' demands.
Ivan, a Kiev pensioner in his 60s jumped in: "Putin - he is
a terrible dictator. This must be understood by the West, this
must be understood by Europe. We need help."
The older men agreed that Putin had put in place puppet
leaders in several regions such as Chechnya in the Caucasus,
where Russia has fought two wars in the past two decades.
"Tartars are Muslim, as is Chechnya. Why is Chechnya silent?
It has been paid off," Ivan said.
"Of course there shouldn't be any provocation. But there
should be a readiness to defend ourselves against aggression,"
On the square, where a centrally located McDonald's has been
turned into a "psychological centre" to help protesters overcome
the impact of months of demonstrations and the deaths of around
100 people, there is an atmosphere of permanence.
While the new government has not made direct calls for
protesters to leave, many on the square distrust the new
leadership to enact the kind of reforms they want and have vowed
Protesters on the square universally tell tales of the wild
riches that ordinary parliamentarians gain - one confidently
talked of the "millions" a member of parliament can get for
voting correctly during a debate. They reckon that the leaders
of the opposition-turned government, such as acting President
Oleksander Turchinov and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk will
enjoy such benefits.
Meanwhile, the "self-defence" units of the square insist
they will stay by the barricades they've built up over months
at least until early elections planned for May 25. That is,
unless Putin and Russia force them to rethink their plans.