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Winnipeggers wary about ceasefire, back protesters

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The head of a Winnipeg Ukrainian group is skeptical about a truce following deadly clashes in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital.

Violence in Kyiv left 26 dead and more than 425 injured this week and President Viktor Yanukovych and protesters agreed to a truce.

"Personally, I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him," said Oksana Bondarchuk, president of the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

"The protesters were offered amnesty and this is what they got in return. They were ambushed."

Yanukovych met with opposition leaders and the two sides agreed to halt the violence and hold talks on ending bloodshed, a statement on the presidential website said.

Vitali Klitschko, one of the leaders of the protests, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Yanukovych agreed there would be no attempt to storm the protesters' encampment on Kyiv's main square downtown.

On Tuesday, 16 anti-government protesters and 10 police officers were reportedly killed in Kyiv street battles.

In addition to a March 1 fundraiser for the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine, Winnipeggers are organizing a memorial service for fallen victims, Bondarchuk said.

"It's heart-wrenching, but you realize these people have little to lose because they have such a substandard level of life and they want better," she said. "Parents don't want to see their children live how they did for the last 20 or 30 years.

"They want to see democratic rights and values. They were moving toward that. Now they're going back to a totalitarian state with no human rights or civil liberties."

No time or date has been set yet for the memorial service, Bondarchuk said.

Canada's federal government and Winnipeggers condemned the bloodshed in Ukraine.

About 20 people gathered outside the Centennial Concert Hall Tuesday night to protest the violence as the Shumka Dancers Ukrainian dance troupe performed in Winnipeg.

Canadians of Ukrainian origin gathered Wednesday on Parliament Hill to denounce the violence in their homeland's capital city.

The Ukrainian and Canadian flags were lowered to half-mast at city hall Wednesday to acknowledge the suffering in that country. It will stay at half-mast until Sunday.

Mayor Sam Katz made the announcement at the start of Wednesday's executive policy committee meeting. Winnipeg's Ukrainian community is "very concerned about family and friends there," Katz said. "We hope for a quick end and a peaceful end in the very near future."

Katz has spoken publicly before in support of the protesters occupying the heart of Kyiv, describing them as fighting to protect democracy in a nation that was once part of the Soviet bloc.

"It's very difficult to watch what is going on and then be told by (Ukrainian) authorities that it's the protesters' fault. It's very difficult to stomach, to say the least," the mayor said.

He later told reporters he was saddened by the turn of events in Ukraine.

"We know there is something wrong there and hopefully it can be corrected before any other lives are lost," he said.


-- with files from The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2014 B4

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