KIEV, UKRAINE — Inside his army-style tent, one of many pitched on Kiev’s most famous square and bigger than some Ukrainian apartments, Vitaliy Vygupaev rises hospitably from his laptop.
He came to the Maidan — Independence Square — on New Year’s Eve from a region east of the capital to demand good government. He stayed. The Viktor Yanukovych government ran off. Now the new government wants the militias that formed to defend the protesters to turn in their weapons. Vygupaev doesn’t think so.
“If we followed the laws there would be no Maidan,” he said Saturday, “and we’d still be under Yanukovych.”
The new — and temporary — government has only been in office a little more than three weeks, not long enough to inspire confidence and too long to waste any time. But this is the second revolution for the people of Ukraine, and they’re determined this one will turn out right.
The 2004 Orange Revolution did not. It overturned the fraudulent presidential election of Yanukovych but produced new authorities who bickered, botching their work so badly that a frustrated citizenry turned back to Yanukovych in 2010. Then, he managed to emerge as the only real alternative, winning by a tiny margin and going on to demonstrate new depths of corruption and chicanery.
“We want to change the system, not just the president,” said Vygupaev, an auto mechanic. “When we choose the president and change the system, we’ll leave.”
The new government wants to start transforming the system by demonstrating official competence, returning the country to normal, collecting illegal guns (permits are required to own them) and providing the kind of police protection that will make people feel safe. The people don’t trust them to do that.
Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, backed a new law creating a National Guard in hopes that militias would join up. But the guard is under the Interior Ministry, which supervised the police, widely distrusted because of corruption before the revolution and now despised for their rough measures during it.
Although some have been joining — the pay is about $300 a month, the national average — many are too suspicious of the police to even consider it.
“It’s the police who beat us,” said Vygupaev, 55. “We still don’t have respect for them.”
The tent has become home. A rough but effective wood-burning stove provides warmth. Several men sit at desks, tapping at computers. Pallets are stacked up along the tent walls, topped with mattresses and blankets. One man is asleep. Another has just finished chopping wood — an ax is on the floor.
“I will fight for the right to vote for our own president,” Vygupaev said. The election is scheduled for May 25. Then laws must be passed providing for impeachment, he said, so the people have recourse if they’re disappointed. He’s hoping he’ll get home in the fall.
“We don’t have guns,” he insisted, “only sticks and shields.”
The tents are pitched on the pavement over an underground shopping mall. Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags fly from poles. City life goes on along the sidewalks. The sushi restaurant looks popular. Lattes are sold from trailer-borne espresso machines. One souvenir seller offers door mats with Yanukovych’s face on them and the slogan, “Clean your shoes.” Ice cream cones drip in many a hand.
Men in camouflage stand, chatting, in the warm sunshine. “We’re staying until the system changes,” said a sandy-haired 40-year-old who would identify himself only as Ryzhi – it means Red.
“How to start?” asked Yuriy Lyulka, a 35-year-old security supervisor at an office building. “Let ordinary people run for office, not just political parties. Change the system so people can hold power.”
Ivanna Bilyk, a 27-year-old printing shop manager from western Ukraine, quit her job and joined the Maidan on Dec. 1, after police beat students.
“The government used us to come to power,” she said. “Now they need to show us we can trust them.”
And the government?
“Usually a government is given 100 days to show some results,” Ostap Semerak, the Cabinet of Ministers administrator, said last week. “We’ve been working 21 days.”
But many Ukrainians are tired of waiting.