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Ukraine: Youthful Protesters Find That 'Times Are Changing'

Ukrainians are hopeful, but cautious about the future The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is flooded with young people demonstrating for democracy amid the political crisis over the country's disputed presidential election. Despite the cold and snow, the thousands of young protesters -- school kids, college students, young workers, and civil servants -- never seem to tire and always appear enthusiastic. The daily demonstrations in Kyiv's Independence Square have the feel of a joyful youth festival, although participants say they understand that reforms will be difficult.

Kyiv, 1 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A group of young people is standing outside an entrance to the Kyiv metro, where a man is singing the country's national anthem.

Oleg says he learned how to sing the anthem in good Ukrainian only a few days ago, and says he can even play it on his guitar. "Times are changing, and we are also changing," Oleg says. "In these days, our national songs are more dear to us than Western rock music."

Thousands of opposition supporters -- many of them young people -- gathered today in front of parliament and are also blocking government offices in Kyiv. So far, the protests have remained peaceful, but during debate yesterday, a group of Yushchenko supporters broke through a fence surrounding parliament before being pushed back.

A factory worker in his 60s from Kyiv, Anatoliy Ryabukha, says he is not surprised by what he calls this "revolutionary enthusiasm."
"I do not think our future is clear. We voted for Yushchenko, but I do not think that there is one person who will be able to give us full employment, or jobs after we graduate, which we deserve and are hoping to get."

"It is natural [that there are so many young people here] because young people have always made revolutions, not the old," Riabucha says.

Riabucha says that when he was young, he lived under Soviet rule and that he and his friends were afraid to say what they thought. "We were made to abstain from thinking," he says. "We perceived the world differently than they do now."

Riabucha says young people today are not afraid to say what they think. "They want justice, as my kids and grandchild say. They are not so much interested in the personality of a president, but they want justice and freedom," says Riabucha.

Riabucha has a son, two daughters, and a 9-year-old grandson. Riabucha says he even finds a big difference between the way his children think and how his grandson behaves.

"I think my grandson will live better than my son. They are, of course, different. This small kid knows more than me -- about technology and about everything," Riabucha says.

Riabucha says he doesn't like the fact that young people seem to set no limits on their behavior. "We did not go too far and did not cross some limits," he says. "But it is about personal things, not about politics, and maybe I am too old to accept everything I should."

Elena graduated from university last year and now works in a bank. She says her parents share her views on Ukrainian politics.

"The whole family is spending long hours in Independence Square. Now it is late at night, but even my grandmother -- who is 74 -- is in the square," says Elena. She says Ukraine's presidential election crisis has made politics important to her life.

"I am interested in politics now, and I want to understand it as much as possible. It interests me very much. My own future and the future of our nation is important to me," Elena says.

She says a revolution is happening in Ukraine, "an event that happens once in a century." She says it will help other nations to witness what is happening in Ukraine, to see that people have the right to their opinions and that politicians must pay attention to what the people want.

However, she says that from the Polish and Baltic experiences, she knows that reforms will be difficult and that the "heroes of today might be cursed tomorrow. But I agree to live through all this because I want to be a free person in a free country."

Some fears remain, however.

Stanislav is a third-year university student who says he voted for opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. But he won't say where he goes to school. "I don't know which of the two candidates the head of our university prefers, and I don't want some unpleasant things to happen to me when I go back to my studies," Stanislav says.

He says he does not want Ukraine to revert to its Soviet past. "I do not remember very much about those times," he says. "But what I still hear is that people thought they were the best in the world, but the biggest problem was how to find sausage in the shops."

But Stanislav says he is realistic, that he does not believe in miracles. He says he is skeptical that Ukraine can quickly prosper economically.

"I do not think our future is clear. We voted for Yushchenko, but I do not think that there is one person who will be able to give us full employment, or jobs after we graduate, which we deserve and are hoping to get," Stanislav says.

He says he has traveled to the Czech Republic, Russia, Turkey, and Israel, and that he will be happy if life in Ukraine approaches that in Turkey.