Ukraine’s Prime Minister Resigns, but Protesters Don’t Care

Even after the resignation of Ukraine's Prime Minister and the repealing of controversial antiprotest laws, Kiev's protesters are staying on the streets

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Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters

Anti-government protesters sit around a fire near barricades at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev, Jan. 28, 2014.

The revolutionaries in Ukraine were not impressed with the government’s act of appeasement. On Tuesday morning, several of their key demands were met: the Prime Minister resigned, the parliament repealed a set of antiprotest laws and a mass amnesty was granted to all the demonstrators in the streets, even the ones who have seized government buildings by force. But hardly anyone in the occupied center of Kiev was celebrating, and no one was preparing to leave. “It’s more like a smoke break,” said Sergei Kononenko, who was helping to man the makeshift barricades a short walk from the presidential residence. “We’re not going anywhere.”

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Neither, it seems, is President Viktor Yanukovych. In the past two weeks, as riot police have tried and failed repeatedly to clear the streets, he has shown that he will grant practically any of the protesters’ demands — except his own resignation. “That is nonnegotiable,” says Nestor Shufrich, a senior lawmaker from the President’s political party. “We have already retreated as far back as we can go. The possible concessions are exhausted,” he told me on Tuesday, minutes after he had voted with his party to repeal the antiprotest law, the same law they had pushed through parliament less than two weeks earlier.

As for the party’s options now, he would not say whether force was the only one. “That is up to the President,” he says. But if the protesters still refuse to leave the center of Kiev, and if the President still refuses to leave his post, the stalemate will continue until someone flinches. “That’s when things could get bloody,” says Kononenko, the protester.

And that is what those on the streets seem to be preparing for. On Tuesday, trucks brought fresh supplies of firewood to Independence Square, the heart of the revolution in the center of Kiev, as temperatures fell to –12°Celsius. One of the demonstrators unloading it onto the square, a giant of a man with a ski mask over his face, hadn’t even heard that Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had resigned two hours earlier. “So what?” he said when I told him the news. “It doesn’t change anything. I’m still a terrorist as far as this government is concerned. And until they’re all gone, until Yanukovych is gone, nothing on this square will change.” At least not peacefully.

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