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Ukraine

Caught between hope and mistrust in Kyiv

The Ukrainian leadership has made some key concessions to demonstrators, likely in the hopes of prompting the opposition to put an end to the spiralling violence. But some protesters are hesitant to abandon their posts.

There are no car convoys, and there is no rejoicing in the streets of Kyiv. Instead, barricades are still being constructed, and Molotov cocktails prepared for the next clash with the police. Nonetheless, there's a hint of hope in the frigid air and an occasional smile.

Valentin, a man in his early 40s wearing a bright orange hard hat, is cautiously optimistic: "Maybe we'll succeed in preventing further bloodshed." For weeks, the former soldier has held out on the capital's Independence Square, the Maidan - one of tens of thousands of protesters against President Viktor Yanukovych.

The news early this week of the government's concessions to the opposition - including a cabinet reshuffle, proposed amnesty for protesters and a rollback on anti-demonstration laws - came as a surprise, Valentin says, adding, "The president seems to have become scared."

Resignation under pressure

Yanukovych and Azarov. (Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Kravchenko/Pool/Files)

Yanukovych and Azarov are said to be close allies

Yanukovych has fulfilled at least part of his agreement with the opposition. The Ukrainian government took an unexpected first step toward de-escalation when Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, in office since 2010, resigned on Tuesday (28.01.2014).

The opposition had been demanding Azarov's resignation in light of the police violence against demonstrators in Kyiv and other cities. Yanukovych appears to have succumbed to the pressure from the streets, and sacrificed his close ally.

It is unclear who will be the next head of government. Opposition politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a member of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, has refused the post.

Parliament scraps controversial laws

The ruling majority has also made concessions to the opposition in parliament. With an overwhelming majority, lawmakers repealed a package of anti-protest laws that, among other provisions, prohibited the wearing of masks and helmets and the occupation of buildings.

The opposition appreciates the parliament's actions, but is holding out for further steps. Decisions on amnesty for the protesters and on an extensive constitutional reform, which would shift the balance of power in favor of the parliament and away from the president, are expected for Wednesday.

Klitschko's toughest task

The Ukrainian opposition now faces perhaps its hardest task since the beginning of the protests against the country's government and president. They have to convince thousands of protesters on the Maidan to retreat. One big issue is giving up occupied buildings on the grand Chreschtschatik Boulevard, but mostly on Hrushevskoho Street in the government district, where protesters have fought with police forces in street riots over the last few days.

Vitali Klitschko in the Ukrainian parliament. (Photo: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Klitschko has a more flexible position than other opposition heads

The opposition appears to be split. Members of the Fatherland party are not willing to compromise and demand the president step down. The self-proclaimed Maidan "commander," Andriy Parubiy, said the protesters would only leave the occupied buildings if the president and his government left their residences.

Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), however, has a more flexible position. There is still hope for a peaceful solution to the gridlocked conflict if he can get the people to make concessions. But efforts to do so haven't always been successful in the past few days. Klitschko managed to convince some radical protesters to stop throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. But he couldn't prevent the occupation of the Justice Ministry and other buildings.

'Now or never'

The protesters on the barricades in Hrushevskoho Street don't want to abandon their positions until Yanukovych steps down. "We're not leaving, even when Klitschko asks us to," a young protester told DW. Many of them fear that they would be prosecuted after all if they left Kyiv's streets now.

"It's now or never!", the young man said, "We have to stay until Yanukovych leaves."

Should new riots break out in the hours and days to come, Yanukovych could issue an order to clear the barricades - a move likely to escalate the violence seen in recent days.

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