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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 November, 2004, 20:33 GMT
Behind the scenes at Kiev's rally
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News, Kiev

A protester from Chernihiv shows off his tent, shared with three others
Demonstrators in the tent village endure -10C temperatures at night
Ukraine's non-stop political rally in Kiev's main square is becoming something close to a state within a state.

It has a population of hundreds of thousands, leaders and a flag.

There is no need for currency, because everything from food to clothing and medication is free.

On Sunday, a map was issued under the title: "Free Territory".

It shows the main buildings around the square where demonstrators can get information, eat, drink, go to the toilet or doss down for the night.

Loudspeakers blast

If the territory were to have a name, it should probably be Maidan, after the Ukrainian for Independence Square - Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

A slogan sometimes blasted from the loudspeakers is: "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Maidan! Glory to Yushchenko!"

Ukrainian demonstrators' views

In the first days of the rally, messages were broadcast from loudspeakers telling demonstrators that they could re-charge their mobile phones in such-and-such a building, or calling for volunteers to unload mattresses or felt boots from a lorry.

In the same way, they recruited electricians and plumbers to get their buildings into shape.

Now activists say the operation has become more slick.

One of the key Maidan nerve centres is the former Lenin Museum. Goods donated by well-wishers are collected and distributed here, while food is cooked and served.

It is run by several commandants, working in shifts, backed up by numerous co-ordinators and has thousands of visitors each day.

The timetable is as follows:

  • 0800 - Wake up
  • 0800-1000 - Breakfast
  • 0930 - Announcement of programme for the day
  • 1000-1400 - Cleaning (building closed)
  • 1400-1700 - Lunch
  • 1700-1800 - Cleaning (building closed)
  • 2000-2200 - Dinner
  • 0000 - Lights out

One of the services on offer is an accommodation agency. Sympathisers call up to offer rooms for the night, and demonstrators in search of shelter are put in touch with them.

The tent village strung out at various points along the city's famous main street, the Hreshchatik, is only for the most die-hard protesters.

This is partly because it is cold - one night it was -10C - and partly because there is a fear that the police could storm the camp and disperse or arrest its inhabitants.

One of the deputy commandants of the tent village outside the main post office, 21-year-old law student Natalia Tkachuk, says that despite the discomforts she will not leave until victory has been attained.

Student protest

"My father agrees that we have to struggle for democracy but my mother cries constantly and appeals to me to come back," she says.

Natalia Tkachuk, deputy leader of Kiev's student protest group Pora
Natalia's mother has pleaded with her to come home from the rally
"She tries to stop me leaving home - but there is nothing that could stop me."

Natalia is the deputy leader for the Kiev region of a student protest group called Pora, modelled on the Serbian group Otpor, which played a key role in the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic.

In spring she attended lectures in Kiev by Otpor leader Alexander Maric.

On the coldest nights, Natalia says, she and her friends dress each other in coat after coat, until they resemble mummies.

Despite the success in organising essential services, chaos still reigns in some areas.

Food is given to demonstrators free of charge in the Khreshchatyk
Food is given to demonstrators free of charge in Kiev's main street
The huge numbers of people in the tent camps were uncontrollable for a time, Natalia says, though administration is now improving.

The Trade Union building on the Maidan, used as an a campaign headquarters, is still completely swamped with people at some times of day.

Leaders of groups arriving from villages and towns across the country have to register here for meal tickets. They surge up and down a narrow staircase shoulder to shoulder and cheek by jowl, frequently getting jammed solid.

"Honestly, we were not ready for this," says Anatoly Kobylyatsky, who describes himself as an activist as well as a journalist with the Pravda Ukraini newspaper.

"We were expecting 30,000 or 40,000 and we got 10 or 20 times as many."




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