Cleaning Around Barricades, Kiev Protesters Still Camping In Square

Dump trucks are carrying away piles of trash from Independence Square in Kiev. But this is not the end of the protests in the Maidan. People who've been camping there for months see it as a transition to the next stage.

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In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, hundreds of people are still camped out in Independence Square known as the Maidan. They say they'll stay, at least through next month's presidential elections, to push for greater reform. In February, violent protests in the Maidan toppled the president and left dozens dead. Today, though, the cloud of black dust over the square was from dozens of brooms sweeping. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The riots here in Independence Square ended months ago, but this still looks like the scene of violence. There are huge barricades with bricks and tires. There are people camping out and cooking over woodstoves. Yet now, some of the debris is getting cleared away.

ARSENYI: We don't removing barricades.

SHAPIRO: You're not removing the barricades? What are you doing?

ARSENYI: We are just cleaning our barricades. There will be new barricades. More beautiful.

SHAPIRO: Will you tell me your name and your age?

ARSENYI: My name is Arsenyi, and I'm 18 years old.

SHAPIRO: So what you're saying is you're not leaving.

ARSENYI: Yes. Maidan, it's really my home. It's - my brothers here, my sisters.

SHAPIRO: Like almost all of the volunteers cleaning up the square today, this young man is wearing a dust mask and gloves. He's been spending hours filling dump trucks here on the Maidan. A dark layer of soot covers his face and hangs in the air. The volunteers are separating scrap metal from the other trash. They'll sell the metal to help feed people who are still camping out here. Everyone says this cleanup is not an ending, it's a transition. Now that the old president is gone, the long fight to reform Ukrainian society begins. Vitaly Vlasnikov is 31.

VITALY VLASNIKOV: It's now still the point of our struggle because, I mean, corruption is so deeply living in all levels in Ukraine that is - we need to fight - continue fighting that.

SHAPIRO: He is wearing a somewhat incongruous L'Oreal T-shirt. L'Oreal, like, the beauty company. In fact, almost everyone here is wearing the exact same T-shirt. Some people have it over their camouflage fatigues. Apparently, someone showed up with a huge box of them.

VLASNIKOV: I think it was given just for, I mean, because it's black, so to defend yourself from the dust and so forth. So...

SHAPIRO: You don't want to be advertising L'Oreal?

VLASNIKOV: No way.

SHAPIRO: The cleanup crew is diverse - everyone from kids to senior citizens, professionals to students. Yelena Gushena turns 65 tomorrow. She's been loading these dump trucks for more than two hours.

YELENA GUSHENA: (Foreign language spoken)

SHAPIRO: I carried stones. I carried garbage. Everything. Nobody sat and watched, she says. Everyone did the work.

GUSHENA: (Foreign language spoken)

SHAPIRO: She says: I believe the next stage for a brighter and better Ukraine for our children and our future starts here. I don't think these people who died on the Maidan died in vain. Now, tears are running down her face, drawing clear lines through the coal dust that blackens her cheeks.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Kiev.

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