KIEV — Representatives of the new Ukrainian government are convinced: It is time for Maidan Square to be free of tents.
The only question is how to get rid of the protestors from the site that became the center of the pro-democracy movement. The police think Maidan should be cleared with force, as if it were occupied by criminals. Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kiev, and a number of national politicians all think that the protesters need to leave on their own.
Earlier efforts have started by trying to first clean up Kreshchatyk street, which leads up to Maidan. But taking down the first two tents led to an uproar, and traffic couldn’t be opened on the street anyway.
Now Klitschko thinks he can come to an understanding with the residents of the tent city. “A forced clean-up is an extreme measure. I am not considering it and will never consider it,” the mayor said, as he was announcing the first steps towards cleaning up the square.
The government is holding negotiations with the protesters, but the only concrete step that has been taken is moving some of the tents out of Kreshchatyk street and into another neighborhood of Kiev.
Boots on the ground
“The mayor has offered us options for temporary lodging. But we aren’t refugees, we are monitoring the government, which isn’t carrying out the wishes of the people. They want us to leave, because they don’t want to free Donbas and they don’t want to fight corruption,” said Nikolai, sitting in the summer heat in full camouflage and new army boots.
Seeing the activist's shiny footwear, one passerby sneered: “You would be better off sending those new boots to the front, where our soldiers are fighting in sneakers.”
Nikolai answered right back: “We also need equipment here, we are also on the front-line.”
Maidan Square on June 21, 2014. Photo: Flickr/Mighty Travels.
But the Ukrainian government considers the present Maidan a criminal camp, not the front line. Both the prosecutor general, Vitaly Yarema, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov have made statements to that effect. Yarema said that there have been 158 crimes committed in Maidan Square since February, four of which led to fatalities. He said there were investigations into “14 cases of armed assault, 79 robberies, and 18 beatings as well as drug use, illegal weapons and fraud.”
“It’s best to avoid the Maidan area,” explained employees of the city television channel, whose studios are near the camp. “There have been times when someone finished filming, and then was attacked, beaten and robbed. Today Maidan is not the center of the civil society, like it was during the winter.”
Interior Minister Avakov says that he has a plan to deal with the tent city, and feels sure that Ukrainian society will look kindly on “the use of force to deal with criminals.”
Maidan representatives have responded to the threats of security forces by holding “people’s assemblies,” although they weren’t particularly well-attended. The speakers warned that all efforts to clear Maidan will be for naught - they simply won’t leave.
Newly installed Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has called on the government to proceed carefully. In his opinion, Maidan is “more than just a symbol.”
Viktor Hebozhenko, a political scientist in Kiev, says that trying to unilaterally clean up the square would be a major mistake for the new government, which he notes was “brought into power by Maidan.”