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Friday, January 31, 2014

Ukraine’s President Makes Major Concessions To Protesters

Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych gestures during a press conference in Kiev on March 1, 2013. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych gestures during a press conference in Kiev on March 1, 2013. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s embattled president Victor Yanukovich made two major concessions to protesters today.

He signed the legislation that repeals laws his government had recently passed to curtail protests, and he also signed into law a bill from parliament that offers amnesty to protesters if they leave all the government buildings they have occupied.  Protesters are rejecting the amnesty offer because it comes with conditions.

That comes as a Ukrainian activist who had been missing for over a week was found today, apparently with serious, bloody injuries. Dmytro Bulatov, 35, said he had been tortured, beaten and literally crucified with nails through his hands. Police are investigating.

Negotiations between authorities and opposition leaders have stalled after the opposition rejected an offer from the president over the weekend. The Ukrainian crisis began in November when protesters took to the streets after president Yanukovich shocked the country by pulling back from closer ties with Europe.


  • Olga Bielkova, member of the Ukrainian Parliament from the opposition party UDAR, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance For Freedom.




And we're hearing today from an activist in Ukraine who had been missing for over a week, who surfaced to say he had been tortured, beaten and literally crucified with nails driven to his hands. He's one of three activists who disappeared. One was found dead, another also badly beaten. Also today, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych made what he saw as major concessions, signing legislation to repeal strict new anti-protesting laws that were passed just this month, also signing a law that offers amnesty to detained protesters if others demonstrators leave government buildings they've occupied.

Of course, the whole crisis began in November after the president shocked Ukrainians with his decision to pull back from deeper ties with Europe, leading to protest in Maidan, the main square in Kiev. Olga Bielkova is a member of the Ukrainian parliament from the opposition party. She joins us now by Skype. Olga, this beaten protester, he headed a group of car owners. So why would they be protesting? And tell us more about him.

OLGA BIELKOVA: So Dmytro Bulatov, who was reported missing and who was thankfully found alive, but tortured, today, he was one of the organizers of so-called Out of Maidan, which means that people who are car-owners, they would gather together and go to one or another place, which is they think is important to make some statements.

YOUNG: Why would car owners feel that they had a reason to gather together to protest the president's refusal to have closer ties with Europe?

BIELKOVA: As those who are without cars go in just to the streets, go in just to Maidan, which is a main square of our country. It's just their way of protesting, is going by car. Many of them were females. Most of them, they are middle class. They just felt it's easier and safer for them to protest this way. Some places they were going, they were located out of the city like mansions of politicians. So that's just a different way of protesting.

YOUNG: Well, let's go to what the government has been doing over the weekend; made a serious offer to demonstrators. The prime minister resigned. That position was offered to a leading opposition party leader. The president also talked about a committee to revise the constitution, weaken presidential power. And then, of course, we see today the president signing this bill, offering amnesty to protesters who've been detained on the condition that other demonstrators who have occupied government buildings leave. People outside Ukraine are wondering, why wouldn't demonstrators take that, leave the buildings and others who are being detained would be free?

BIELKOVA: First of all, I do welcome the resignation of our prime minister and the whole government. I only regret that it is happening only now. People were on the streets for the last three months. They demanded the current government to be out. It happened right now under extreme pressure from everywhere including from inside. It just - it's a pity it's happening only now.

Second, the laws, which were accepted on 16th of January, escalated society and destroyed the trust - the remains of trust between people and parliament. There was actually a drama which led to more violence and escalation of protests. And then the third, amnesty. I, as a person, can only be responsible for my own acts. Those who are now in prison, they cannot depend on the acts of other people who are protesting sometimes in other cities.

YOUNG: So the concern is that it's a quid pro quo. In other words, they would give amnesty to protesters who've been detained on the condition that other demonstrators leave the government buildings they've occupied, and you're saying that's not fair. One person's freedom shouldn't depend on another person's actions.

BIELKOVA: Exactly. Exactly. You just put it in my, you know, in a better way that I explained. But people are angry, and they say, we were beaten, tortured. We were arrested for no reason. And why all of a sudden now we have to be out only if other people will stop their own or good doing?

YOUNG: Well, what do we make of President Viktor Yanukovych taking a medical leave of absence? Many suspect this is political rather than for health reasons. We see him active today, signing into law this offer of amnesty. What is this meaning to people there that he's on a medical leave?

BIELKOVA: Well, I don't want to speculate about somebody's health. I do wish that he regains his strengths and becomes more active because situation right now requires his urgent and immediate attention to what people are asking for.

YOUNG: And it would seem he's in a little bit more of a tight squeeze. Russia had offered $15 billion in aid after Ukraine's president ended the deal with Europe to take up the slack. This week, Russia suspended that aid. It only gave out a few billion. Do you sense that the president might be feeling a little more pressure?

BIELKOVA: Well, I do understand the president is under tremendous pressure from all sorts of powers across the world, including his own people. But that's exactly his role, to be able to respond effectively and efficiently to all his calls. And I think right now, he has to be more attentive to what his own people want and plan his cooperation with our international partners in such ways that we do have some future as a country, independent country, and able to sustain our own budget.

YOUNG: And what would that be? What exactly do Ukrainians want? Would it have to be relations with Europe? Would it have to be the president stepping down? Would it have to be protesters released without demonstrators having to leave the buildings they're occupying?

BIELKOVA: Well, as it started in November, demands of people were very clear. They were against corruption and they were against unjust decisions by courts, militia, and police, whomever. There is tremendous distrust between people and all institutions in this country. So right now, president has to do some steps to regain trust from people to all these institutions, including parliament. I think that government should be restructured and become more technocratic. People who are professionals, knowing how to lead reforms, trying to understand how to sign agreement with EU. And we do need find those who will be able to build partnership relationship with Russia, even though it's very difficult right now.

YOUNG: Olga Bielkova, member of the Ukrainian parliament in the opposition party, weighing in on the latest from Ukraine. Olga, thanks so much.

BIELKOVA: Thank you, Robin.

YOUNG: So are you Ukrainian or Ukrainian-American watching from abroad? What are your thoughts on the increasingly intractable situation in your home country? We'd love to hear at You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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