KYIV -- After a week of bloodshed and political upheaval, a tentative sense of peace has descended on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, with residents reeling from a blend of grief, excitement, and fear.
Pedestrians continue to choke back tears as they walk slowly past makeshift memorials to the more than 80 people killed in last week's sudden surge of violence.
But there are also proud cries of "molodtsi" ("good job") from little old ladies as they pass protesters carrying makeshift shields and baseball bats, still guarding the city center.
Yaroslav, a 30-year-old glassworker from the western city of Lviv, came to Kyiv as a member of the "Sotnye" defense brigades. Wearing a bicycle helmet and gripping a metal baton, he says he will continue to patrol the streets for "titushky" and other antidemonstration thugs.
"We're on edge, because there are titushky walking around," Yaroslav says. "They're carrying out provocations and throwing different mixes [like Molotov cocktails]. At the moment it seems calm, but things don't calm down that simply."
In the city's Independence Square, the epicenter of the three-month Euromaidan protests, demonstrators have begun to trickle away from the tent camp, many people seemingly eager to return to a normal routine after weeks of freezing vigils and pitched battles with Ukraine's Berkut riot police and pro-government thugs.
But even with President Viktor Yanukovych ousted and the former political opposition suddenly calling the shots, many protesters say it is too early to declare victory.
Andriy Kovalyshyn, 42, who stands outside city hall dressed in military fatigues, says he was rattled by news of continuing clashes in Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions further east. "I'm morally tired. My nerves are not holding out. As far as events are concerned -- we've scored victory against the Berkut," he said. "But as for the east of Ukraine, it's still unclear how events are going to unfold."
A sense of emotional exhaustion seemed to prevail throughout the city, with many people collapsing into spontaneous sobs mid-conversation.
Natalia, a 30-year-old housewife, reflects on the high cost of Ukraine's political transition. "It's hard to feel joyful," she says. "But there is joy."
The city, she suggests, is likely to stay calm now that the fighting has died down. Central Kyiv has experienced almost no spike in crime despite the current state of political limbo, a fact Natalia attributes to the discipline of opposition security brigades while police have been scarce.
"I think actually because there aren't police, there won't be disturbances! First of all the police have seen that they are not all-powerful and that we can repel them," Natalia says. "Second, the people who have held the fort here and organized the Samoobrona [self-defense force] are not some kind of looters or people who want to start disturbances. They want to maintain order instead."
Hoping For Normalcy
Still, many in Kyiv acknowledge a deep apprehension over what will come next. Protests continue to churn in Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Sevastopol, where ethnic Russians burned Ukrainian flags and asked for Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring Crimea under Moscow's control.
Meanwhile, several key officials from the previous regime remain missing, including Yanukovych, who has alternately been rumored to be seeking shelter outside Donetsk and in Crimea. Ukraine's acting government on February 24 issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych, accusing him of the killings of dozens of Euromaidan protesters by police.
Lawmakers have continued to restaff the government with pro-opposition officials and discuss plans for Ukraine's political future, including a chance to restore ties with the European Union.
But some in Kyiv, like 34-year-old Halina Radzievskaya, are skeptical that figures like Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, or former boxer Vitali Klitschko are the right people to lead Ukraine into the future.
"I would change them all, to be honest, but that's my personal opinion. I don't have a leader. I'm a normal person and I'm for the people," Radzievskaya says.
"I worked abroad for a few years. It's difficult to get work here. I want to live in our country. I've got a grown daughter who wants to get a normal education and normal work. That's why I want everything to be good and for people to be represented."
Specter Of Revenge
Nor is it clear that Kyiv itself will steer clear of revenge attacks on Yanukovych supporters, despite calls for order. Early on February 24, seven heavily built men in masks -- three in apparent police uniform and four in camouflage -- were seen bursting into city hall, pushing a man with a black bag over his head and his hands cuffed behind his back.
The men then shoved him aggressively into a room off the second floor, shutting the door for what they called an "interrogation," apparently suggesting the man was a member of the titushky.
A person resembling the man was later seen being helped into an ambulance by state doctors, clutching his sides and in clear pain. He would not comment on his identity before a masked man -- apparently aligned with the protesters -- swiftly closed the door.
The incident, which sparked curiosity and alarm among onlookers, was a somber warning that vengeful sentiment may continue to run high between opposing sides.
But some, like 25-year-old Kyiv native Yevheny Horkovenko, are feeling more optimistic, saying the past week is the beginning of a fresh awakening in his country. "I think it's a small victory. Unhappily it took a heavy toll and people paid with their lives," he says.
"But now changes are already happening. People already understand that the 'siloviki' have left. Now when people go out, they don't have to look over their shoulder -- they can breathe freely."