KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 4 -- Beneath a three-story atrium in what was once the Lenin Museum, young and old Ukrainians shuffled up to counters labeled Shelter, Legal Aid, Information, Psychological Counseling and Lost and Found. Exhausted youths reclined on dingy mats in the basement among piles of fruit, potatoes and bottled water. Hawk-eyed security guards wearing white knit caps queried aspiring visitors about their business and their documents.
This is the nerve center for demonstrations that have shaken Ukraine for the past 13 days. It houses the commanders of ranks of student groups, political activists and professional and women's organizations. Together, they have formed part of a massive civic mobilization mounted by supporters of Viktor Yushchenko, an opposition candidate fighting to win a disputed Nov. 21 runoff election for the presidency in this fractured country.
Ukrainian opposition supporters pledged not to abandon their protest after the Supreme Court declared runoff elections invalid and called for a new vote Dec. 26.
(David Guttenfelder -- AP)
Demonstrators, who by the hundreds of thousands have occupied Independence Square in central Kiev and blockaded government buildings, celebrated a Supreme Court decision Friday that threw out the results of the runoff. The court scheduled a new election between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych for Dec. 26.
Yet the demonstrators -- students, workers, retirees and business people -- have not packed up, even though fatigue was visible on their drawn faces. Many spoke darkly about their fears that maneuvering by President Leonid Kuchma and his favored candidate, Yanukovych, would somehow undermine their aspirations.
So the self-declared "orange revolution" goes on. The protesters in Independence Square, decked out in orange ribbons, scarves, caps and slickers -- the color of Yushchenko's campaign -- wiggled to the rhythm of live heavy metal music and listened intently to political speeches.
Along sidewalks and cobblestone streets, crowds chuckled at caricatures of their political adversaries: Kuchma, the outgoing president, Yanukovych, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who through his support of Yanukovych has become a villain among opposition forces.
The demonstrators' desires, however, transcend the destiny of their candidate. In conversations over the past few days, protesters expressed a wish to carry Ukraine not only to democratic rule but also to alter the fundamental direction of the country's history.
For more than three centuries, Ukraine has been the prize of Russian czars and Soviet leaders. Its territory has been a battlefield of vicious wars and political repression. Yushchenko's supporters say their goal is to face West, a compass point they believe will end Ukraine's history as a pawn of their northern neighbor.
"This is not a movement about one candidate or clean elections. It is much wider in scope. We want to take Ukraine to a new level and a common vision. For 300 years we have been the playground of different states. We didn't feel ourselves Ukrainian, but millions of detached atoms. Now, we are becoming one large community," said Andriy Parubiy, self-styled "commander" of the operations at the former Lenin Museum, now called Ukraine House.
"We want to have a civilized country like all the civilized countries in the world, for the first time," said Nina Pikrotenko, a store owner in Kiev, expressing an oft-repeated desire of many Ukrainians.
To reach such goals, activists have organized a disciplined and determined protest. The atmosphere is as intense as the crushed democracy rallies in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, as unflinching as the demonstrations that swept Eastern Europe on the eve of the Soviet Union's collapse and as light-hearted as Woodstock, without the overlay of drugs and sexual abandon.
Kuchma has launched a struggle of attrition, international diplomats say, in hopes of derailing Yushchenko's candidacy and getting an ally of his own into power. Kuchma has not commented on the Supreme Court decision. Nor has he ratified recent parliamentary votes to dismiss Yanukovych and his cabinet and fire the Central Elections Commission, which the court ruled had permitted "systemic violations" of electoral law.
"Tactically, Kuchma needs time to find his way out of a maze," a senior diplomat said. "He is a survivor."
If Yushchenko ultimately wins, he would face an array of severe economic problems that include heavy deficits, difficulties in making pension payments and high unemployment. He also would have to deal with unhappy voters largely concentrated in the eastern and southern sections of the country who supported Yanukovych.