Thick smoke from burning tyres once again billowed into the blue sky over Kiev’s Independence Square on Thursday as a group of demonstrators still living in the protest camp scuffled with authorities trying to clear the area.
Dozens of demonstrators threw stones and started fires as they halted a short-lived push by municipal workers backed by interior ministry troops to dismantle barricades around the entrance to the central square with bulldozers.
The fate of the symbolic site, the centre of months of bloody protests that led to the toppling in February of President Viktor Yanukovych, is a hotly debated topic in the country.q
“They came from two sides and tried to clear away the tents and everything,” said protester Andriy, clutching an iron bar. “They want us gone, but we are not ready to leave yet.”
In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk at least four people were killed as government forces continued to tighten their grip on the pro-Russia rebel stronghold.
A mortar hit a large hospital in the city on Thursday, killing at least one person, after overnight shelling claimed the lives of three others.
“There was a sudden explosion, a mortar round flew through the window and all the equipment was destroyed,” said Anna Kravtsova, a doctor at the Vishnevskiy hospital. “They killed one person, and one person was injured and taken away.”
Only the dentistry unit suffered damage, witnesses said, but it is one of Donetsk’s larger hospitals, only 4km from the city’s main square, and has treated civilian victims of the conflict.
Kravtsova said the person killed was a patient at the hospital.
The incident follows a night of shelling in another central neighbourhood. The city council said in a statement on its website that three people had been killed and five wounded, and several residential buildings destroyed.
More than 1,100 civilians have died since the Ukrainian army began its “anti-terrorist” operation in the east, according to the UN.
As the rebels struggle to push back Kiev’s forces, fears of Russian intervention have grown. Western leaders have accused Russia of massing troops on the boarder with Ukraine, but Moscow denies doing so.
Since Yanukovych’s fall, the encampment in the centre of Kiev, known as Maidan, has dwindled to a fraction of its original size as many activists have either headed back to work or signed up to join government forces battling the rebels in the east.
Cafes and even a basketball court have gone up on the square as souvenir stalls selling fridge magnets with rude messages about the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, have sprung up and life has crept back to normal.
There have been rumours, however, denied as slander by those still there, of rising alcoholism and petty thuggery.
“This Maidan is not the same one as it was in February. Only the people without any hope are left here now,” said pensioner Sergey, standing among the debris of a dismantled tent.
“The local authorities need to agree with the leaders to move it somewhere, but it can’t be done like this. We have war in the east already and we don’t need war in Kiev too.”
Kiev’s new mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former world boxing champion who was one of the most prominent leaders of the protest movement, lashed out at those still occupying the square, saying authorities had tried to negotiate with them.
“The majority of people in Kiev want order and security in the city centre, but what has been happening here recently is just criminality,” Klitschko said in a statement on Thursday.
“The main demands of Maidan have been met,” he said. “Today we need to work and not bring shame on the idea of Maidan and the country.”
For many, however, the square is still a potent symbol of people power and lies near sacred ground where about 100 demonstrators were gunned down. They accuse Ukraine’s newly elected leadership of inventing excuses to shut it down.
“First we need to drag all the officials who killed people here and stole our money on to the square to judge them. Then we can think about moving on,” said Mykola. “What was started has not been finished and the authorities are scared.”
Nearby, small crowds of local residents gathered to argue with each other, with voices rising and fingers being jabbed into chests.
“This is a betrayal of Maidan and the revolution,” yelled a woman who gave her name as Lidia. “I’ve heard Russia is behind it and they’re trying to bring Yanukovych back,” she said.