Former Boxer Steps Up As Kiev Mayor, Spars With Remaining Activists

Former world heavyweight boxing champ Vitaly Klitchko is now set to become mayor of Kiev. In his first major move, Klitchko is asking activists in Independence Square to pack up their tents and allow the square to return to normal. Some activists are resisting, warning that one presidential election doesn't guarantee the success of their revolution — or do justice to the martyrs who were killed there.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're going to turn now to where Ukraine's uprising began, Kiev's Independence Square. At the time, ex-heavyweight boxing champ, Vitali Klitschko, was seen by many as the unofficial opposition leader. Now Klitschko has been elected Kiev's mayor. And he's trying to clean up the square and return the capital city to normal. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, he is not having an easy time of it.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Shortly after being elected Mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, came to the City Hall building, on the edge of Independence Square, which, since the uprising, is known simply as the Square or Maidan. He asked a small group, mainly city employees, to pass the word that it's time for the Maidan to return to normal, to show that Ukraine's capital is back in business.

MAYOR VITALI KLITSCHKO: (Through translator) Today, we need to get back to work for this city. We have to hold meetings to make decisions. I would like to address each of you, to make sure you understand this need.

KENYON: Out on the square, still crowded with tents, barricades and wood fires, reactions to Klitschko's call have been mixed. Mykola Kalina, a member of the so-called self-defense forces, who fought security forces loyal to the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, doesn't seem worried by the prospect of the tents coming down. He says, everything should remain in place until Petro Poroshenko appears, in the Square, as the new president on June 7.

MYKOLA KALINA: (Through translator) We'll leave everything in place until Poroshenko appears. After Inauguration Day, most of the demands of the Maidan would have been met. And then we can just clean everything up.

KENYON: But others, including hardline nationalist groups, such as Right Sektor, want everyone to know that they won't be going quietly.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUMP TRUCK)

KENYON: A dump truck raises its bed, in the Maidan, spilling yet another load of used tires onto the square, to join the thousands already there. Nationalists, in tattered fatigues, video the event to send the message that, as far as they are concerned, no one should be going anywhere just yet. Although everyone seems to cite the demands of the Maidan, referring to the calls for reform that drove the uprising, no one can say what those demands are precisely. But both activists and ordinary Ukrainians are reluctant to see this place return to normal, until they're sure the new government has gotten the message that the old corrupt ways of doing business are no longer acceptable.

TAMARA SHVETS: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Tamara Shvets says, Klitschko has barely assumed office and has no business ordering everyone to clear away from the Maidan. The people will know, she says, when it's time to pack up the tents. As someone reinforces a tent post nearby, Tamara points out a tall, metal flagpole. At the base of the pole is a picture of her husband, Viktor, shot and killed at the height of the bloodshed here. The picture is inscribed, from his wife, daughter and granddaughter. All along the street, above the square, walls, trees and patches of ground are adorned with such memorials, each one on the spot where someone was killed. More than three months after the worst of the violence, people still come here each day, to leave flowers or a poem, to take pictures or simply stand in silence. As city crews begin the task of cleaning up the Maidan, it's likely these homemade shrines will remain, at least for a while, to remind the new government to remain on the path to reform, mindful of the price Ukrainians paid to come this far. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Kiev.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: