KIEV, Ukraine (Reuters) - 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 power.
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 fulfill 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,” Sashko added.
On the square, where a centrally located McDonald’s has been turned into a “psychological center” 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 to stay.
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-defense” 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.
Reporting by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Dan Grebler