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Revolutionary Love

Amid Chill Political Winds in Kiev, Young Protesters Demonstrate Their Affection

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page C01

KIEV, Ukraine -- Lithe, petite Sofia Kirichuk, wrapped in a thin leather overcoat, spotted tall, angular Vasili Folosov across the rows of pup tents and right away saw something she liked.

"It was his revolutionary eyes," she says. Never mind that he and she were in the middle of a vast and tense political demonstration. Never mind that they were living in a tent city on a main boulevard of slushy, windy Kiev subsisting on bologna sandwiches. Love had struck.

Sofia Kirichuk and Vasili Folosov met and married during political protests in Ukraine, and have spent their honeymoon in a tent city in central Kiev. (Ivan Sekretarev -- AP)

A few days later, on Nov. 27, they were married by an Orthodox priest presiding over a brief, unorthodox sidewalk ceremony among well-wishing strangers. They spent their first night as husband and wife in one of dozens of little tents sheltering supporters of insurgent presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Later, they moved to a large tent housing 28 demonstrators, many of them fellow lovebirds considering exchanging vows.

The tale of Sofia and Vasili lit up the already jolly atmosphere of the protests aimed at overturning fraud in the Nov. 21 runoff election and getting Yushchenko into power instead of his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Scores of local reporters have sought them out to tell their story. Television cameras have recorded their kisses. There have been several other weddings and many more engagements in the tent city, although some of the newlyweds have apparently decamped for more conventional honeymoons. "We were married the same day as two other couples, but they disappeared," says Vasili.

The lack of violence and the carnival air surrounding the rallies have been factors in gaining outside support for Yushchenko's claims and making it difficult for President Leonid Kuchma, Yanukovych's political patron, to crack down, Western diplomats say.

Kuchma and his supporters have tried to paint the demonstrators alternately as drug-crazed rabble and Bolshevik-style radicals. But when mingling with the thousands of revelers in Kiev's Independence Square, the center of the protest, it is hard to regard them as either. They have been orderly, despite the deafening beat of Ukrainian rock-and-roll and hip-hop. They have been peaceful, even while shouting "Down with Kuchma!" whenever his name comes up.

And they have been tough, resisting the sleet, snow and windy cold of Kiev. The drug charge is especially spurious: In a country where vodka is almost like soda pop, a ban on drinking has been widely observed.

That's not to say there is no anger. Crowds that gather at the parliament building have been aggressive in blocking the exits when representatives inside delay in reaching key agreements on electoral reform. Whether this controlled militancy pays off will be tested in a new runoff election on Dec. 26, a date set by Ukraine's Supreme Court.

In any event, the demonstrators have perhaps set new standards for what some observers here called postmodern protest. The color theme -- orange -- is itself a departure. It had no real political meaning; it is not really associated with any single political party, like the red of Vladimir Lenin's communists. Rather, orange was selected by Yushchenko's aides as his campaign color because it matched the colors of a soccer team from his opponent's hometown.

It soon became a kind of fashion statement in the monochromatic Kiev winter. Orange ribbons soon gave way to orange caps, scarves, pants, parkas, bandannas, suspenders, socks, hair and face paint. A new tribe was born. "This was one of the successes of the election campaign. People could recognize each other, and this gave everyone a feeling of support," said Vira Nanivska, head of the International Center for Policy Studies, a local think tank.

Young people formed the backbone of the protests. And like the setting for some sort of midwinter night's dream, Independence Square became a place for romance. Boys and girls held hands across barricades, shivered in embraces during windy political speeches and cuddled under tents or on apartment floors offered them by thousands of Kiev residents.

The newlywed Vasili, 20, works in a jewelry store and belongs to a small party that supports Yushchenko. He rushed down when the rallies began. He is a perimeter security guard at the tent city. "I am fighting for the truth," he says. "Really, we can't just accept this kind of thing anymore. We want to have a real future."

Sofia, 19, had never been involved in politics. She studies economics at a Kiev university. When she heard the election results, she cried, she says. Some friends headed for the square and she followed. "This is a first for me," she says. "I didn't expect it of myself. My patience just ran out."

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