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From The Streets Of Kiev, A Firsthand Look At the Protests


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today brought more violence in Ukraine and also a glimmer of hope. Earlier, police tried to clear opposition supporters from the streets of the capital, Kiev. Protesters responded by seizing control of the city's main post office. But late today, President Viktor Yanukovych emerged from a meeting with opposition leaders and he announced a pause in the fighting to give renewed peace talks a chance.

CORNISH: This is the worst violence in the three-month confrontation over Ukraine's future - the government pursuing closer links with Moscow; the opposition, at first, demanding the country join the EU. Now their demands have widened to include the resignation of President Yanukovych and new elections. At least 25 people have died and hundreds more have been injured in the violence.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kiev and joins me now. And, Soraya, let's start with this news of the truce. What more can you tell us about it?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: There was a statement that came from President Yanukovych's office that declared that there was a truce but also said that there was - it was the beginning of negotiations aimed at ceasing the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation for the sake of the country. The two main opposition leaders, certainly that we hear about - Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko - confirmed that they were welcoming this truce and that the talks would continue.

And Klitschko went as far to say that the president had agreed to go back to a 2004 constitution, which more or less gave parliament more power rather than the president, although there was nothing about that that was listed by the president's office.

CORNISH: Soraya, you were in the central square earlier today and that's been the focal point for the struggle between the government and opposition. Can you describe the scene?

NELSON: Well, it very much felt like a warzone. I mean, people there were trying to build better defenses. They were creating barricades. They were creating Molotov cocktails. They were tearing up sidewalks to have rocks to throw at police officers. Everybody was wearing makeshift helmets and, you know, gas masks and the like. And at the same time that this was going on, you had politicians on stage talking about the government having to be - and the president having to be accountable for the crimes against humanity. It was very much the opposite of what we're hearing now that, in fact, some kind of truce has been reached.

CORNISH: And this comes after the police had launched a huge operation yesterday, using armed vehicles, stun grenades and rubber bullets. And yet, the protesters obviously held their ground in the square. Was that something they considered a triumph, in of itself?

NELSON: Absolutely. And we saw a lot more women in the square. So I was told that they were more turning out. We also saw them, though, preparing for what they thought was going to be another night of bloodshed. A lot of volunteers were going through medicines and medical supplies that had been donated, just fearing that there would be so many more casualties.

CORNISH: Soraya, you've covered other uprisings for NPR. How does this compare to what you've experienced, say, in Egypt's Tahrir Square?

NELSON: Well, certainly the determination is the same. This need or this feeling that people's will must be respected and that dictators will not be tolerated or, you know, presidents who don't listen to the people. Also, determination to keep this square, it's a very important symbol and it's just something that they clearly were prepared to encounter more violence for. So there was a lot of similarity there.

But what I saw here was a lot more defense preparation, organized defense preparation. I mean, everything tonight seemed about just preparing to counter violence with violence, and that's something that I saw less when I was in Cairo.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kiev. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.