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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 13:52 GMT
Ukraine's chorus of protest grows
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Kiev

Ukraine's opposition supporters are back on Independence Square in the capital in their tens of thousands.

A Ukrainian girl wrapped in blankets to keep warm walks through the tent camp occupied by supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev
Opposition supporters are braving the cold
Once again, they are braving the bitter cold and the thick blanket of snow for another day of defiance.

Kiev's main square is a blaze of bright orange - the campaign colours of Viktor Yushchenko. This mass demonstration is growing by the hour.

Among them is Vasil, a student who travelled from western Ukraine to add his voice to the deafening chorus of protest now in Kiev. Others in the crowd are waving banners from towns and cities right across the country.

"You see these people," Vasil shouts, struggling to make himself heard above the chanting. "We will all stay here until we get our President, Viktor Yushchenko.

"For years, people have been living hand to mouth here," he says. "Now we want to move towards Europe and prosperity."

Thousands of Ukrainians like Vasil have vowed to keep up their campaign of peaceful pressure for change indefinitely.

Opposition leaders have called for a nationwide political strike. They refuse to accept Wednesday's declaration of victory for the state-sponsored candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, insisting the ballot was rigged.

Sea of orange

Across town, a man ladles porridge into white plastic bowls. The site in the park was intended as a base camp for supporters of Viktor Yanukovych. But on Wednesday, it too was flooded by a sea of opposition orange.

When one woman does appear draped in the blue and white colours of support for Mr Yanukovych, she is surrounded in seconds. But Larissa clings to her banner and resists calls to switch sides.

Viktor Yushchenko addresses supporters in Kiev's Independence Square
Yushchenko says the vote was rigged against him
"These street protests are just a show - it's a circus but will resolve nothing," she insists. "I voted for Yanukovych because he raised my pension and because I want closer ties between us Slavs - between Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The opposition are trying to separate us."

A much harder core of Yanukovych supporters has arrived now to boost numbers in the capital, traditionally a stronghold for the opposition.

Then there are the young men, many of them coal miners bussed in from the industrial east of Ukraine. Several hundred gathered outside the central electoral commission on Wednesday to hear the official result declared.

One man, Alexei, said it was the only sensible result. Like many in this crowd, he accused the opposition of inventing allegations of falsification in Sunday's ballot.

"Russia is our only real investor," Alexei told me, huddled in an underpass to escape the biting cold wind. "If Yushchenko came to power, Moscow would withdraw that money and our factories would come to a standstill. But I believe Yanukovych represents stability."

Fears of force

So far, the police and military have maintained a low profile on the streets. But as the stand-off heads through its fourth day, with no sign either side is ready for compromise, some fear the authorities will attempt to disperse the protestors by force.

"I now do not see any peaceful exit from this situation," says political analyst Evgen Fedchenko. He believes Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's outgoing president, is now the only man with any authority left to resolve this crisis and that worries him.

"Kuchma would never just pack his belongings and leave office. He would never stop to use force against this nation. There would be victims but that's OK for him for retaining power."

The formal declaration of their defeat on Wednesday has only deepened the opposition's resolve.

Their leaders called that a criminal decision and urged demonstrators to stay on the streets.

Like many, Vitaly, a businessman from Ternopil in western Ukraine, said there was no question of ending this protest.

"It would be a crime before our children and future generations to leave this square," he said. "It would be a crime they would never forgive us for. Ukraine will stay on the streets until victory."


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