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Ex-city man sees Ukraine stalemate

Predicts lasting demonstrations

Posted: 02/3/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Efrem Lukatsky / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
An opposition supporter kisses his girlfriend asking her to marry him while two other activists act as witnesses to a �ceremony� at barricades in central Kyiv Sunday amid ongoing anti-government street protests.

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Efrem Lukatsky / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS An opposition supporter kisses his girlfriend asking her to marry him while two other activists act as witnesses to a �ceremony� at barricades in central Kyiv Sunday amid ongoing anti-government street protests.

A former Winnipegger now living in Ukraine said he sees no early end to the street demonstrations in that country.

Evan Ostryzniuk, 45, said Ukraine has been caught up in a popular revolt against President Viktor Yanukovych that crosses the political spectrum.

"The protests have morphed into a battle for human rights, the right to live in a civilized country." said Ostryzniuk, who has lived in Ukraine for 15 years, during a Skype video interview Friday with the Free Press.

The street protests in the centre of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, have caught the world's attention. They began in November as a mass protest against the government's decision not to sign a trade agreement with the European Union.

Protesters clogged the centre of Kyiv and occupied government buildings.

Most western countries have been critical of the Ukrainian government's harsh police response -- attacking the demonstrators at night and trying to break up their camps. Several protest organizers have been kidnapped and tortured, and one was killed.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz entered the international forum last week when he praised the demonstrators during Wednesday's council meeting, describing them as being involved in a struggle for democracy and urging the community to support their efforts.

Ostryzniuk had been editor-in-chief of Kyiv Weekly for two years when the paper was recently sold to a pro-Yanukovych group that replaced him and other staffers. Ostryzniuk said he'll be taking up a position as business editor with the Kyiv Post, the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Ostryzniuk said the government's harsh response has solidified public opposition to Yanukovych.

"That act of police brutality really galvanized widespread disgust with the government," he said. "Then it snowballed from people opposed to government policy to believing their human rights have been violated."

The trade deal has been relegated to a secondary issue, Ostryzniuk said, adding demonstrators want the president to resign.

"He's broken the social compact with the people; he's responsible for the murder of at least five individuals," he said. "This is a massively corrupt government. People don't want to take it anymore."

The president is attracting little public support across the country, he said.

"There have been very few places in Ukraine demonstrating in support of the president, which is very interesting."

Ostryzniuk said people are optimistic about the latest developments -- the resignation of the prime minister and the president's decision to take a sick leave.

Ostryzniuk said it's believed Yanukovych's support within his own party is abandoning him and there are elements there that also want to see him gone.

The sick leave, he said, is seen by some as a face-saving effort by Yanukovych and the first move in a plan to step down, with early presidential elections in the spring.

"I can't see Yanukovych applying force to the demonstrators again," he said. "There are too many eyes on Ukraine, and the regular police and the army are definitely not interested in applying force on their own people."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2014 A7

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