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A Country At A Crossroads, And Kiev Partly In Flames


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


And I'm Robert Siegel. We begin this hour with the crisis in Ukraine. In the capital, Kiev, anti-government protesters stormed the central post office, one day after violent street battles with police left at least 25 people dead. But tonight also brought hope for peace there. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met with opposition leaders, and they have agreed - for the moment - to stop the fighting.

CORNISH: The announcement comes with the city and the country at a crossroads. Yanukovych has used his power to pull Ukraine closer to Russia, a move many in the east of the country support. But many in the country's west want the opposite: to pull closer to the European Union.

Earlier today, I spoke with Maria Danilova, a correspondent for the Associated Press based in Kiev. I asked her to describe the scene in the central square.

MARIA DANILOVA: We have radical protesters confronting police, and we have more moderate protesters who are currently rallying, listening to speakers, listening to some music that is playing. Earlier in the day, the more moderate protesters were also taking part in preparations for possible confrontations. I saw young students, young girls preparing Molotov cocktails. I saw elderly women who were crushing the pavement and, you know, making stones and rocks to be thrown into police, in case violence were to resume.

And I saw hundreds and hundreds of just regular Kiev residents coming to the protest camp; bringing food, bringing milk, bringing sandwiches, distributing medicines. So we're seeing an organized effort to keep up this protest.

CORNISH: Will anything short of President Yanukovych's ouster do for the protesters, at this point?

DANILOVA: It won't. At this point, what the protesters are asking for is for Yanukovych to resign, and to hold new parliamentary and presidential elections. The opposition leaders in this protest have also been talking about a constitutional reform that would decrease presidential powers and put more powers in the hands of parliament, as a way out of this crisis.

He, however, is determined to fight till the end. He issued a statement early today blaming the violence on the protesters, calling them to go home, and warning that if this doesn't happen, the conversation will be very much different.

CORNISH: Maria Danilova, what kind of diplomatic efforts are now underway to prevent further bloodshed?

DANILOVA: We will have a team of European Union officials come in. They're flying in tomorrow. The German foreign minister, the French foreign minister and the Polish foreign minister will all meet with President Yanukovych early in the morning, to try to negotiate a political solution to this crisis.

The West has strongly urged both sides to refrain from violence and to resume negotiations. But after yesterday's deaths, the European Union has begun threatening sanctions against top Ukrainian officials, and perhaps the powerful businessmen who support Yanukovych.

CORNISH: Maria Danilova is a correspondent for the Associated Press, based in Kiev. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

DANILOVA: Goodbye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Danilova
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