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Kiev Protesters Have Invaded Parliament

Police are abandoning their positions as the opposition has taken control in Ukraine's capital.

by Henry Langston
Feb 22 2014, 3:20pm

Photo: Henry Langston

Protesters in Kiev have taken now control of the Parliament building, with members of Parliament inside discussing the possibility of impeaching President Yanukovych. The opposition is now in control of Kiev, with police abandoning their positions, and there's speculation about where Yanukovych is, as he is believed to have fled the capital for somewhere less hostile.

Kiev held an uneasy peace yesterday, and it seemed like negotiations between Yanukovych and the opposition may finally be yielding some results. But the situation has been so unpredictable so far that we thought we should give VICE UK’s News Editor Henry Langston – currently on the ground in Kiev – a call to check how things are going.

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko held a brief press conference after being released from prison

VICE: Hi Henry. Can you give me an update?
Henry Langston, VICE UK News Editor: Parliament voted to return to the 2004 constitution from the Orange Revolution; they voted to get rid of the interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who’s been largely responsible for the shootings and violence that we’ve seen. They also voted to release the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who's been in jail for two years. Most people think it was a political decision to jail and persecute her.

So are the protesters celebrating?
Not really. The elections would come in December, and people in the square aren't happy with that at all. The mood on the Maidan is that they’re happy that the interior minister has been fired. They’re happy with the release of Yulia Tymoshenko and they’re happy with the return of the 2004 constitution, but the ultimate aim here has always been to get rid of President Yanukovych. One of the chants on the square translates to: "Yanukovych – convict!" They want him out. They want him in prison.

What's the mood on the Maidan been like?
At about 5 PM, vans started turning up with the bodies of some of the protesters. Priests were on the stage leading a sermon. The coffins were pulled out of the vans and hoisted up for everyone to see. Some were open casket, some weren’t. Lots of people were crying and wailing. It was a very emotional scene – very upsetting for a number of people. But there was a lot of defiance, too – the usual chants went up: "Glory to Ukraine – glory to the heroes."

What's the attitude towards the opposition leaders at the moment?
The opposition leaders came down to the Maidan and took to the stage. Vitali Klitschko, for one, was booed. The opposition lost a lot of influence in January when things turned deadly, and the protesters feel let down. They see Yanukovych as a criminal, which he may well be, given the actions of the last few days.

So what's going to happen now?
A commander of the Maidan Self Defence Group – one of these sort of militias that have sprung up here – took to the stage after the opposition leaders were booed and harangued, and didn’t get much of a chance to speak. He said from the stage: "Yanukovych has until 10AM on Saturday morning to resign, or we fight with weapons and march on Parliament." The crowd went pretty crazy. They were pretty into that idea.

I've heard some of Yanukovych's own political allies have been abandoning him too.
He's looking a bit isolated. Also, earlier today some policemen from Lviv turned up in Kiev to pledge allegiance to the protesters. Some policemen from Kiev did the same. They’re just patrol cops – not the Berkut riot police. We saw them in their uniforms, chatting away with protesters. It seemed pretty friendly.

Is there anything else to add?
Yeah, actually – the protesters stole a water-cannon. We walked onto the square and we saw a flag sticking out of something. We went for a look and it turned out to be a water-cannon. The protesters had managed to pinch it and drive it into the square. There were maybe ten guys climbing on it and sat in the cab, quite proudly showing it off.

How did they manage that?
We spoke to a guy who told us that when the police pulled away from the Parliament earlier on Friday, they left a water-cannon behind, next to Mariinsky Park. Some people noticed that, went to have a look and just thought, 'Yeah, OK – we’ll take this.' I don’t know if they hot-wired it – I don’t imagine that the cops left the keys in there. It’s pretty balls-out – pretty impressive. Even if there’s no water in it, it’s a pretty effective battering ram.

So what can we expect to happen next?
It's such an unpredictable situation, but Saturday could be quite a big deal. We’ll have to see if that ultimatum bears out. These people don’t mess about, although France 24 reported that the ultimatum wasn't genuine. And the Right Sector – a right wing grouping – also rejected the concessions made today, and basically said that the revolution is on. They don’t influence everyone in the square and it’s not much of an organized plan, but the crowd seemed to be into the idea of marching to Parliament.

Violence broke out between protesters and riot police with dozens killed from gunshot wounds on Thursday