Thursday, November 25, 2004

Kiev Divided Into Two Camps

Friday, November 26, 2004. Page 1
By Anatoly Medetsky
Staff Writer
Sergei Grits / AP
Protesters from rival camps facing off.

KIEV -- A hiking club oversees the hundreds of tents set up just off Independence Square. Doctors treat stuffy noses and sore throats. Locals cart in a steady stream of sausages, bread, jam and pickles. The campers are well educated and speak fluent Ukrainian. Alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Just 400 meters away, no one seems to be in charge of the several dozen tents standing haphazardly on a snowy hill. Campers stampede to get sandwiches delivered in cardboard boxes. They speak in Russian, and many of those words are coarse. Vodka is flowing freely.

This is where the struggle between opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych for the presidency is divided quite literally into two camps. Yushchenko supporters started raising tents Monday to hold around-the-clock protests over Sunday's disputed election. Yanukovych supporters followed suit Wednesday.

But the contrast between the two camps is as sharp as the orange and blue colors that the campers are waving from their rival tents.

Yushchenko camp leader Dmitry Logginov was busy Wednesday night rearranging tents at the encampment on the main Khreshchatyk thoroughfare to make the ever-growing camp easier to navigate. The number of tents has swelled from an initial 200 to well over 500.

"No one expected that so many people would want to settle here," he said.

Logginov also heads the Kiev hiking club Kompas, and he said he and his friends came to share their expertise and prevent people from freezing.

"There are many people here who went on hiking trips and who know how to survive the winter," he said. "We will be putting up bigger tents equipped with heating systems."

He paused for a moment, asking an assistant to pass the word to Kiev residents that the camp needs electric heaters, gas space heaters and trays for clothes and food.

"The support of the people is great," he said. "They bring everything we need."

His gratitude was echoed by Mariana, a history student from Kiev's Taras Shevchenko National University manning an impromptu food counter made of wooden packing boxes. The counter was laden with chunks of sausage, bread, jam and jars of pickled cucumbers and tomatoes.

"The owners of restaurants and pizzerias in Kiev bring food," said Mariana, who declined to give her last name and looked alarmed when pressed by a reporter.

"We have no shortage of anything except hot water because too many people want to keep warm," she said. "They are always taking something hot, like tea or coffee."

Many people are catching with colds and seeking treatment at five medical tents spread throughout the camp. "There are many colds," said Yury, an anesthesiologist from a Kiev hospital who was on duty at one tent and wore a badge reading "Medical Service." He also seemed alarmed when a reporter asked for his last name.

Alexiy Buzov, a student of culture at a Kiev college, came over for medicine for sore throat. He acknowledged that the 10-centimeter-thick sheets of foam insulating tent floors from the freezing asphalt do little to keep out the cold, but said he would stay for as long as it takes. "I am thinking more about the president," he said, referring to Yushchenko.

Heated buses were parked on streets around Khreshchatyk, and campers took turns clamoring on board to warm up.

Olga Lusheva, a store assistant from Obukhiv, a town 40 kilometers south of Kiev, was wrapped in a coat as she stood by her tent chatting with fellow campers. "We sing songs and read poems," she said, describing their daily routine. "I also help around the kitchen."

Lusheva came to the camp Monday after she saw a report about the protest action on independent Channel 5 television. The station is running telephone numbers at the bottom of the screen, where people can call if they want to help.

The camp is protected by volunteer security guards who only allow registered campers to enter the grounds, referred to by Yushchenko supporters as "the area of freedom."

"Those are parachutists," Logginov said, pointing at a group of guards. "There are also many company directors."

"Drinking is strictly forbidden," he said. "We consider it a very important rule not to drink. We want present a good face."

"A sober mind means sober decisions," said Taras Romanyk, a student from Lviv who shares a tent with a group of classmates.

The camp hums with activity around the clock. At 1 a.m. Thursday, people were munching on sandwiches, setting up new tents and hauling in fresh food and clothing. Some were sifting through meter-high piles of donated sweaters, gloves and scarves. The most sought-after article of clothing was valenki -- the warm, felt boots that are indispensable footwear in rural areas. Two men were chipping away ice from pavement between a neat row of tents.

The camp is lined with orange ropes and metal benches. Glossy orange posters reading "For Yushchenko" together with homemade signs and placards with the names of Ukrainian provinces are taped to many tents. Ukrainian flags and orange Yushchenko campaign banners flutter everywhere.

The young, well-educated crowd speaks in Ukrainian, leans toward the West, and is predominantly from Kiev and western Ukraine. Their camp was set up by the opposition youth organization Pora and the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine political bloc.

"Our job is to hold on here so they don't raze the tents," Lusheva said.

Until Wednesday night, the rival pro-Yanukovych camp consisted of several dozen large khaki tents and smaller blue and white tents -- Yanukovych campaign colors. They stood under bare trees on the hillside Mariinsky Park across a street from the Cabinet building. The camp completely disappeared overnight, and several Yanukovych supporters said Yushchenko supporters tore down the tents when they went to the Central Elections Commission's headquarters to hear the announcement of the official election results, which handed victory to Yanukovych.

A row of tents reappeared Thursday morning. Campers said they were put up for the night at sanitariums outside Kiev or had stayed with friends.

The entrance to the camp is not guarded, and campers spoke in Russian sprinkled with obscenities. When several small trucks pulled up with cardboard boxes of sandwiches, they rushed over to grab one. Many drank vodka and aggressively lashed out at the other camp.

"If a Yushchenko supporter shows his ugly mug here, I'll hit him in the fucking nose," one brawny man told a group of friends while eating a sandwich.

Yushchenko supporters, however, were roaming through the camp Thursday, urging their countrymen to change sides.

Many in the Yanukovych crowd wore camouflage, and a noticeable number were missing front teeth. The camp appeared to have no leader and, when asked by a reporter, people said they did not know who was in charge.

To keep warm, people stuffed chopped wood into metal barrels near their tents and lit fires. Others opted for vodka, saying they could drink because they were older.

"Look at them, and look at how old I am," Petro, a factory worker from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, said, downing a shot in a tent and pointing to a throng of young people wearing orange armbands and pennants who were walking by. He would not give his last name and did not give his age.

Channel 5 reported that Yanukovych supporters were brought to Kiev by special buses and trains and are being paid 200 hryvnas (about $30) per day to stay.

People around the tents denied that. "The thing about money is not true," said Anatoly Vinnik, a retiree who came with his neighbors and friends by train from Kharkiv.

"We also are the people," he said. "We also want a free, happy and democratic Ukraine, but with a legitimate president, not a self-proclaimed one."

He said Kiev residents bring them wood, but he has to buy food in grocery stores or eat at cafes.

Campers did not seem concerned that the other camp had many more tents. "They have more because they are organized," said Oleg Akhmedshin, a miner from Kryvyy Rih in southeastern Ukraine.


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