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Fear, Anger In Kyiv Over Inaction In Eastern Ukraine

Hundreds of protesters gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square on April 14, angry at the new government's apparent inaction in eastern Ukraine.
KYIV -- Tires burning. Hundreds calling for the president's resignation. Fears of activists storming the parliament.

Sound familiar? That was a scene from Kyiv this week.

Frustrated over what they see as the Ukrainian authorities' slow and weak response to pro-Russia militants' seizure of government buildings in the country's east, hundreds of indignant protesters gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square on April 14.

They were angry. But they were also frightened. "People don't see the authorities taking a position on the events in the east of Ukraine," said Valentin Yermolenko, a 54-year-old man from Kyiv.

"What happened in Crimea is happening again in the east. We witnessed our country lose part of its territory. I am upset and I feel it is unjust. We could end up with nothing."

It wasn't the famous Maidan of old, the one that drove Viktor Yanukovych out of the presidency -- and ultimately out of the country. But it captured the mood of many in the capital.

Appearing stone-faced on national television on April 13, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov issued an ultimatum to pro-Russian gunmen: give yourselves up or face a huge "antiterror" operation.

But come morning, the ultimatum's deadline passed without event. Turchynov then replaced the man heading the counterterrorist operation. Hours later he floated the possibility of holding a referendum.

And Turchynov wasn't the only one flip-flopping. Presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko changed her position throughout the day. In the morning she called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis; by afternoon, she was calling for national resistance.

"The authorities are unaccountable and indecisive," said Igor, a 40-year-old construction worker who gave only his first name.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is not popular in Kyiv: "Avakov -- whose side are you on? Either stop separatists or get out!"
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is not popular in Kyiv: "Avakov -- whose side are you on? Either stop separatists or get out!"

Demonstrators chanted "We've had enough!" and "Out with Avakov," referring to unpopular Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

One speaker representing a division of Maidan security brigades demanded the authorities provide them with weapons -- a proposal Turchynov would dismiss the next day as a shortcut to civil war.

"We have to defend our motherland. But with our bare hands and sticks what are we going to do against extremists? The authorities are scared of giving arms to the people," 63-year-old Stepan Kovgus said.

After many of the protesters had dispersed, a group of activists -- among them members of the nationalist group Right Sector -- marched to the Ukrainian parliament, where they would set fire to tires and demand that the country's top security brass be held accountable for their actions.

In an appeal to the protesters, Viktoria Syumar, deputy secretary of the National Security Council, said such actions played into Moscow's hands.

Writing on Facebook, she appealed to the protesters and assured them that the Security Council had authorized the use of the army in the east and officials were working through the details of the operation to minimize the loss of human life.