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Ukraine: Voices Of Yanukovych Supporters Drowned Out Amid Kyiv Protests

World attention has focused this week on the thousands of supporters of Ukrainian opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. For four straight days, they have braved freezing temperatures to protest the 21 November presidential polls, which pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych officially won despite strong criticism from the West that the poll was fraudulent. But what about Yanukovych's supporters? Though not nearly as visibly numerous as his rival's backers, Yanukovych voters have also made their voices heard despite being virtually shut out by the Western media.

Kyiv, 25 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Borys is not the typical protester in the streets of the Ukrainian capital this week.

A worker from the pro-Russian region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine, Borys is not one of the tens of thousands of protesters who have crowded Kyiv's icy streets this week to protest official results that declared pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as the winner of the 21 November presidential election.

Borys did not vote for Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate who has called the polls a farce and urged a nationwide strike in a bid to overturn the results.

Rather, he is one of a few Yanukovych supporters who have also taken to Kyiv's streets in a bid to make their voices heard amid a far larger -- and much louder -- chorus of backers of Western-leaning Yushchenko.
"We already had a revolution and lost 10 or 15 years and if we lose 15 years more.... Now, when life is getting more or less normal, we do not need to break everything. And now, we can break everything." -- Yanukovych supporter

Borys says simply that it is "not clear what Yushchenko might bring to the country" and adds that the economy has been doing well under the current prime minister's stewardship.

"I think that in principle [the Ukrainian] economy was growing. The growth is [going] on one way or another because people are not just sitting -- they are doing something," Borys says.

Others like Borys say their opponents want to strip Yanukovych of a legitimate victory. They say the prime minister has brought relative stability and prosperity to the country and fear instability under Yushchenko. They are also unhappy with the West calling the elections fraudulent.

Oleksiy Ivanov from Kharkiv says he voted for Yanukovych because he was afraid things would turn worse if Yushchenko became president. Ivanov says his personal life has settled, he started to earn money and does not want revolutions, perestroika, or political turmoil.

"We already had a revolution and lost 10 or 15 years and if we lose 15 years more.... Now, when life is getting more or less normal, we do not need to break everything. And now, we can break everything," Ivanov says.

He says he would have voted for Yushchenko "had he promised to leave all good things, which are already present in our country and would put criminals behind bars. He did not clearly say that and I have chosen Yanukovych."

Some voices in the West have accused Russia of meddling in the elections, with Moscow clearly supporting Yanukovych. Asked about these allegations, Aleksey burst into curses, calling this a ridiculous theory invented by the opposition.

Svitlana, a doctor, says it is wrong to doubt Yanukovych's victory. She says she is insulted by assertions that the election results were falsified.

"It is insulting for me that they consider me to be a silly animal. I wholeheartedly support Viktor Fiodorovych Yanukovych. To begin with, I know him. He is very decent, good, powerful -- a man with strong will power. I feel insulted when they say that nobody voted for him. I am from Kyiv. I voted for him, my family did, my children did, grandchildren did, and my mother did. Why they are insulting me?" Svitlana says.

She says the best way to solve the problem is for Yushchenko to discuss the current situation with Yanukovych and join his team.

"Me, as a human being, as a woman feel that Yushchenko is not a leader. And Yanukovych is the leader of our country," Svitlana says.

Still, the pro-Yanukovych crowd continued to have hard time getting their point across in a city dominated by pro-Yushchenko protests for the fourth day in a row. Many protesters have spent the night out in the freezing cold.

Yesterday, Yushchenko called for a nationwide disobedience campaign to put pressure on the government to reconsider the results.

Stas Tesliuk, a student from Kyiv Technology University, says many universities and schools have already stopped their activities with students coming to Kyiv to support Yushchenko.

"Almost all young people from all over Ukraine, all regions, are coming here. All Ukraine is supporting us. In fact, the whole world, except Russia [supports us]," Tesliuk says.

Sergey is also a strong supporter of Yushchenko. He says the call for civil disobedience is the "only way left" to force President Leonid Kuchma to act.

Sergey tells RFE/RL: "Kuchma is still the president and he should do something to take people away from a brink of a civil conflict; it is his duty. Now, he is hiding somewhere from the events of enormous importance and just washing his hands."

Outgoing President Kuchma, who endorsed Yanukovych in the campaign, has accused the opposition of fomenting a climate that could plunge Ukraine into civil war and urged the West to stay out of the country's affairs.

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