Far-right groups protest Ukrainian president's peace plan
By YURAS KARMANAU Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — As police watched warily, far-right and nationalist groups protested Monday in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, expressing anger at President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his long-awaited peace plan for eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskiy paid homage Monday to Ukrainians killed in the five-year conflict with Moscow-backed separatists, holding a moment of silence at a Kyiv monument. Later he will visit Ukrainian military forces on the front line in the east, where fighting has killed at least 13,000 people since 2014.
Authorities expect tens of thousands of protesters at nationalist demonstrations planned throughout the day to mark Defense of the Homeland Day. Zelenskiy urged participants to avoid violence and warned of potential “provocations” from those who want to stoke chaos.
About 100 people gathered Monday morning in front of the president’s administration, waving banners protesting Zelenskiy’s tentative agreement to hold local elections in eastern Ukraine and his commitment to pull back heavy weaponry near separatist-held areas.
Critics call the accord a “capitulation” to Russia and fear it will lead to Russia having the upper hand in deciding the future for the conflict-torn region. “Peace after Victory” read one huge banner.
“Zelenskiy wants to strike a deal with the devil. But you can’t believe Russia, the country stole Crimea and violated all its promises,” said 22-year-old student protester Bohdan Samoylenko.
Nurse Oksana Petrova, 37, said: “Thousands of Ukrainians gave their lives in the east, and now we should forgive them and surrender to them? Zelenskiy is a servant of the Kremlin and not the (Ukrainian) people.”
The head of one of the protesting groups, Veterans’ Brotherhood, said Zelenskiy held a closed-door meeting with nationalist groups last week to try to explain his position and calm tensions, but claimed the president said he has “no plan.”
Ukraine, Russia and the separatists signed an accord earlier this month to pull back heavy weaponry and to hold an election in the area at a later date. The pullback has not occurred because of shelling from both sides and threats from Ukrainian hardliners to hamper the disengagement.
Zelenskiy, a comedian who rose to the presidency this year on promises to end the conflict, is sticking to the accord, insisting that it’s the only way for his country to move forward.
He still enjoys the support of most Ukrainians, who argue he needs to be given time to fulfill his promises to revive the economy. Ukrainians have also shrugged off his embarrassing phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump that unleashed an impeachment inquiry in the United States.
“I love my country but I’m not like those nationalists, I don’t have time for protests. And what good does that bring?” asked Nadiya Kuzmenko, 68, a former arms factory worker who cleans houses to supplement her $125 monthly pension.
While the nationalist groups gathered at key sites in Kyiv, at other spots in the city families with strollers just enjoyed the holiday, eating ice cream and basking in an unusually warm autumn day.
Angela Charlton and Lynn Berry in Kyiv contributed.