Ukrainians Stage Mass Unity Rally in Kyiv

Column in Maidan Square in Kiev, Ukraine

(VOA News – March 23, 2014 – Thousands of Ukrainians gathered on Sunday in Kyiv’s Independence Square calling for unity, a day after Russian forces seized the last major Ukrainian military base in Crimea.

The rally participants gathered to hear pro-Ukraine speeches, display flags, and place flowers at the site of a makeshift memorial to anti-government protesters killed last month in clashes with security forces of the now toppled regime of president Viktor Yanukovych.

But even the challenge of Russian aggression Ukrainians will overcome, Andriy Parubiy, one of the speakers at the rally, told the crowds.

”Against military power, tanks and weapons there is spiritual power and the civilized world has said ‘stop’ to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and we will prevail like we prevailed on Maidan,” said Parubiy, who heads the National Security and Defense Council in the new government.

Maidan, as Kyiv’s Independence Square is referred to, has been the epicenter of protests since last November when Yanukovych spurned a EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Moscow.

In the eastern city of Donetsk, pro-Russian protesters gathered around an administration building, calling for the resignation of the local governor, who is loyal to Kyiv.

Words of scorn

Meanwhile, NATO’s top commander addressed the situation in a speech in Brussels. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said Russia has used snap military exercises as an excuse to amass its troops along the Ukrainian border.

He said NATO has been trying to make Russia a partner, but added that Russia is now acting more like an adversary.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told Russian news media that Russia is complying with international troop limits near the Ukrainian border.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after visiting Ukraine this weekend that he fears that Russia’s takeover of Crimea may just the beginning.

“I’m very worried the unlawful attempt to alter recognized borders in our European neighborhood, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, will open Pandora’s Box,” Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

“We can’t overlook the fact that Russia, with its action in Crimea, is flouting the central foundations of the peaceful order in Europe,” he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, writing in the Telegraph newspaper, said Britain and its allies must be ready for different relations with Russia than what they have enjoyed during the last 20 years. Hague said this would include restricting military cooperation and arms sales to Russia.

Congressional delegation in Kyiv

Members of a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation visiting Kyiv say they have been told by all the Ukrainians they met Sunday that they will not yield “another inch” of territory to Russia and that the Ukrainians are ready to fight.

The lawmakers, headed by Senator Kelly Ayotte, told reporters late Sunday they are optimistic tougher sanctions, other punitive legislation under consideration by their colleagues and a united front by western European countries can deter Russia from further provocations.

“They’ve won the battle of Crimea for now. And they may be anticipating going into eastern Ukraine tomorrow. But this won’t be a short battle. This will be something long term and we’re sure that our neighbors in NATO and democracy-loving nations will stand together in the long run,” said Congressman Stephen Lynch, a member of the group.

The delegation also included  Senator Joe Donnelly.

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[featured image is file photo]

Map of Ukraine and Environs


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