Ukraine president Victor Yanukovych is apparently becoming so unpopular, that he is being accused of having to literally buy his friends. According to critics, he pays for people to counter-demonstrate on his behalf. Some unemployed people, such as Sergey Meleshko, have accepted the offer out of desperation. Along with others, he reports that he gets paid about $25 for six hours of vocal support for the president that people are increasingly demonstrating against. The attempt, it is believed, is to engineer an appearance of popularity for Yanukovych to avoid stepping down, which is what his critics have been demanding. Meleshko admits doing it out of desperate need for money, rather than any kind of genuine loyalty to for the president.
The anti-Yanukovych protests stem from his failure to secure the long-anticipated trade deal with the European Union. He has also been accused of being far too pro-Russian, according to the protesters who demand greater separation from Moscow, and more integration with the European Union. “Euro Square,” as the protest is called in English, began small, but grew into the anti-government protests across the country making international news.
In an attempt to reach reconciliation, Yanukovych negotiated an amnesty offer for jailed protestors, some of whom had taken over government buildings. However, these same people may face reinstated criminal charges if their associates cease street protests. Meanwhile, many in the West worry that an escalation of conflict will happen if Yanukovych does not begin real concessions.
The protest movement has highly visible friends, including celebrities like former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko. Perhaps even more important for politicians is the fact that the anti-Yanukovych crowd includes veterans of the Afghan War, known as “Afghans.” One such person, former senior sergeant Anton Primushko, says he and his comrades don’t like the idea of violence with the police. These veterans enjoy a deep respect in Ukraine, and appear to be a motivating force for peaceful negotiations. Klitschko’s own father was an officer in the Soviet Union’s army.
The president has made his own overtures to veterans of the Afghan War, and some support him. However, most do not according to a source inside the “Afghans” circle.
Meanwhile, pro-Yanukovych protests, whose name in English may be “anti-Square”, sprouted up almost immediately afterward. They began being condemned as fraudulent almost immediately. Oleksiy Haran, political analyst for a university, states that anti-Yanukobych protestors want change, while his supporters merely want money; a clear accusation that the Ukraine president is buying his friends rather than inspiring them. Like Meleshko, many Ukrainian counter-demonstrators admit that they are motivated by quick guaranteed cash. A pro-Yanukovych demonstrator can earn as much as $94 in one day if he or she stays for a full 24 hours, according to their reports of the arrangement. However, unlike Meleshko, an unemployed construction worker, they are hesitant to give their names. Meleshko and others do worry about the government running out of money, and he lamented that he has had less work as a professional political supporter.
Yanukovych does have legitimate supporters, like a Kiev hairdresser who says that the current government offers her generous child support payments. She claims her pro-government counter-protest is purely heartfelt.
Yanukovyvh has proven himself to be willing to resist overt challenge to his rule, much like Syria’s Bashar Assad. Even with potentially powerful friends like the veterans and Western governments, his protesters hope the Ukraine president, and the friends he has been buying, don’t fall into full-scale civil war like that Middle Eastern country.
By Ian Erickson