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New Europe

Day Eighty: Kiev

Street politics in Kiev 
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Street politics in Kiev. In the Julia Tymoshenko camp, the young, westward-looking liberals gather.
Michael Palin - New EuropeVadim confirms the impression I've begun to form already.

'Ukraine is almost a divided nation. A lot of people living in the west and the centre want Ukraine to be part of the normal European Community. But there are many who believe our historic path should lead us into Russia, and it's very difficult to find a compromise between different mentalities. You have to show them that walking towards Europe is more practical than walking towards Siberia.'
It's a difference neatly characterised by Vadim and Igor, our good-looking but dour fixer. Vadim is the intellectual, Igor, the pragmatic ex-soldier (he served with the Soviet forces in Afghanistan) who instinctively looks east.

The tents in the square are primarily those of the supporters of the Democracy Party, headed by Julia Tymoshenko, the attractive, ambitious woman who embodied the mood of the Orange Revolution two years earlier, but who was dropped as Prime Minister by the other great hero of that revolution Viktor Yushchenko (the man whose face was disfigured by what is thought to have been dioxin poisoning). He was forced into an unsatisfactory working arrangement with his conservative rival Viktor Yanukovych. The Tymoshenko camp with their red heart logo make much of the wholesome good looks of their leader, and she in turn sells herself, Vadim thinks, as the essence of Ukrainian womanhood.

'Ukrainians like being run by The Mum.'

Igor mutters darkly as he leads us to a riverboat restaurant by the Dnieper. He defends the old Soviet regime, saying it was they who kept the Ukrainian economy going. I daren't mention Chernobyl.

In the afternoon we walk up the hill to the Parliament building around which the blue flags and banners of the conservative Party of the Regions are flying. They look to be an older, more traditional crowd than those in Independence Square, less sophisticated, less well-off, the harder faces of working people.

In amongst the blue banners are a few old-style communist placards with the hammer and sickle rampant. Igor tells me these are industrial workers from the Donetsk region showing support for their man Yanukovych, who campaigned under the slogan: 'Hope is good, confidence is better'. Since the heady days of the Orange Revolution they've seen their support rise by almost twenty per cent.

He says they may be rougher, more plain-speaking folk but they're here because of their beliefs, whereas the Tymoshenko supporters, he alleges, are paid 100 hryvna every day just to turn out.

Even as we watch there are noises off and a line of red Tymoshenko hearts can be seen advancing up the hill. Raw, nervous young policemen moisten their dry lips. Behind the scenes their plain-clothes colleagues move discreetly about giving orders on radios to the black-clad riot police. But, so far, it's all just noise.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Eighty: Kiev
  • Country/sea: Ukraine
  • Place: Kiev
  • Book page no: 192

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