DAVID M HERSZENHORN
YURI V Lutsenko,a one-time field commander of Ukraines 2004 Orange Revolution,last week looked out across the tens of thousands of people who had gathered to protest against the governments decision to back away from a far-reaching political and trade deal with the European Union. Standing onstage,Lutsenko felt a deep need to apologise.
I would like you to accept my personal apologies for what was not finished, he told the crowd.
For the second time in a decade,Ukraine is in turmoil,with tens of thousands of protesters across cities demanding that the country shake off its post-Soviet identity and move into the orbit of a more prosperous Europe.
They have exploded in anger since their leaders,buckling under pressure from Moscow,said they would walk away from a deal that many here,especially the young,see as a vital step in escaping the Kremlins clutches and joining fellow ex-satellite countries of Eastern Europe.
On Monday,thousands blocked entrances to the government building in Kiev and called for the ouster of the prime minister and his cabinet. This followed the huge rally in the capital Sunday. At least three lawmakers of the governing Party of Regions have quit,ahead of a confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday.
At stake is not just the fate of a free trade pact but whether Russia,willing to use every bit of economic muscle including trade threats and its stranglehold on energy supplies will prevail over the national aspirations of millions of people.
The effort to draw in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics is also crucial to Europe,which has invested heavily in it and can ill afford a defeat at a time of continuing economic strains. Calls for Europe to answer the Kremlins threats against Ukraine with sanctions are raising the prospect of a trade war.
More than 20 years after declaring its freedom and hastening the collapse of the Soviet Union,the country of 46 million remains caught between Russia and the West,its domestic politics riven by corruption and ethno-regional strife,its people fearful about the future.
Many Ukrainians say they regard the countrys political rulers since the end of the Soviet era to be a collective failure. At the same time,they say they recognise the constraints of being almost entirely dependent on Russia for energy,as well as the burden of being home to vital Russian military assets.
Supporters of European integration had been pinning their hopes on the political and trade agreements,which had been in the works for more than four years. A European Union membership,protesters believe,will lead them to benefits enjoyed by neighbouring Poland and by fellow ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics.
I want to live in a country where the law is not just a word in the dictionary, said Kateryna Zhemchuzhnykova,25,a journalist who has been leading protests in Donetsk,in eastern Ukraine,where people are free to tell what they think; to do what they want; to go where they dream.
The mostly Russian-speaking and Russian Orthodox eastern and southern sections of the country tend to favour close ties with Moscow. In the West,Ukrainian speakers predominate,the Ukrainian Catholic Church has many adherents and Russia is regarded with suspicion.
The mayor of Lviv in western Ukraine called on the people to protest and warned that police would defend the city if the central government sends reinforcements. Scores from Lviv have headed to Kiev to take part in the rallies.
Many Ukrainians still hope Yanukovych will somehow resurrect the agreements. He can either become a hero, said Taras Berezovets,a political consultant,or become the biggest loser in Ukrainian history.
NYT,with inputs from AP
The ukraine protests are being called the Euromaidan,a word linguistically rooted in the East and West providing a glimpse into the countrys politics. While the first part stands for Europe,maidan,a word of Persian origin meaning open place,appears to have entered Ukraine via the Ottomans. The central plaza of Kiev is called Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). But Euromaidan a word that,with both its elements,means much more tells the Ukraine story far better than,say,Europesquare would have. AP