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Geneva Accords Not A Hit On The Maidan

Many activists camped out on Kyiv's Independence Square say they have no intention of packing up and leaving despite the Geneva accords. (file photo)
Many activists camped out on Kyiv's Independence Square say they have no intention of packing up and leaving despite the Geneva accords. (file photo)
KYIV -- Shamil Ailin says he isn't leaving the Maidan (Independence Square in Kyiv). And no agreement reached by diplomats is going to change his mind.

In Geneva on April 17, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the European Union reached an accord aimed at defusing the crisis in Ukraine. One of the key stipulations was that "all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners" and "illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated."

This, of course, applies to the government buildings in eastern Ukraine occupied by pro-Russia insurgents. But it also applies to Euromaidan activists who have been camped out on Kyiv's Independence Square for months.

When asked if he is going to pack up his things and vacate the Maidan to honor the diplomatic accord, Ailin, 54, pulls up his t-shirt to reveal a rugged scar where a sniper bullet ripped into his belly two months ago.

"We suffered on Maidan because the authorities were lawless," Ailin said in reference to the regime of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. "We now want the authorities to be transparent. And we are going to stay here as long as we have to. People laid down their lives for there to be justice in Ukraine."

For Ailin, the revolution is not over.

He has no intention of vacating the square to uphold the deal in Geneva to defuse turmoil in eastern Ukraine. And many on the Maidan share Ailin's views.

Digging In

Almost two months after Yanukovych fled the country, wood smoke still chugs from grubby tent chimney stacks in the protest encampment that sprawls over Kyiv's iconic Independence Square and down the arterial Khreshchatyv Street.

The encampment is expected to remain in place at least until the May 25 presidential elections.

Local Kyiv residents like Natalia Grokhova, a 48-year-old actress, see the siege of the square as a guarantee that politicians will move to stamp out corruption and purge the country's tainted political elite.

And they won't abandon it lightly.

"We still haven't achieved anything," Grokhova said. "We have changed one authority for another that doesn't offer much more than the last. Maidan shouldn't go home yet -- we haven't achieved what we came for. We didn't stand here the whole winter to put [acting President Oleksandr] Turchynov in power."

Grokhova, a native of the Ukrainian capital, said she is pro-Ukrainian unity, but that Kyiv authorities should make concessions to the Russophone east, where Moscow-backed insurgents are threatening to secede -- just as the Crimean peninsula did in March.

"Let them have a referendum, let them decide, let them break off. I personally am not against that," she said. "I live in Kyiv and Kyiv isn't going anywhere. If the east really wants to join Russia, then let them join it."

Others like Viktor Labaz, 54, a Kyiv-based activist with the "People's Movement of Ukraine" said Maidan activists should be open to a deal -- but on their terms.

"When we see that the separatists put down arms and come out, when the bandits who fired on our soldiers are wearing handcuffs, when they vacate all buildings and the television towers in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk -- then we can see about us," he said. "Then we will carry out our part of the agreement. Let them carry out their part of the bargain first."

In any event, Labaz said the Maidan should remain until May 25. "Let's see what happens then."
Shamil Ailin (click to enlarge)
Shamil Ailin (click to enlarge)

But for protesters like Shamil, who hails from Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine, there is also a more pragmatic issue: where is he expected to go when the Maidan disperses? He fears pro-Russian Ukrainians know he was active in the revolution and that his life is in danger if he returns to his home.

"I've lost everything," he said. "I lost my job. I'm 54 years old. I'm wounded. Where should I go? Let's be humane about this," he said.

"People have given money – I live on this. But there is nothing from the state. The victors on the square have been forgotten."

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