Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Friday, Nov. 26, 2004

An 18-year-old medical college student from Zhytomyr is running around, distributing medicines and vitamins to the protesters based by the presidential administration. Of a dozen or so tents, at least three are marked with red crosses (a poster on a nearby tree was one such sign), there's always someone on duty there and always someone waiting to receive medicines. The boy from Zhytomyr says medics would be the last to leave, and they are prepared to provide first aid in case provocations occur and the riot police are forced to attack the protesters.

The riot police are based less than 100 meters away, behind two huge trucks (that was Friday; later, the trucks were removed). A group of teenage girls show up with yellow flowers, for the police, and wait for their turn to walk past the trucks: there's a line of ordinary people, the media and even the priests waiting to get close to the police; there shouldn't be too crowded there, though, because it is making the police nervous.

When the priests get through the cordon, they stand right by the fence with flowers, icons, orange ribbons and balloons stuck into it, looking right at the police in front of them and chanting for 15 minutes: God, have mercy on us sinners. They are dressed in long black outfits that look like skirts underneath totally secular jackets and backpacks; they all have something orange with them, including one of two flags.

A boy from Zhytomyr is about to be interviewed for a foreign TV station; his friend, who looks somewhat younger, wants to stand next to him but then changes his mind: No, I can't, if my father sees me, he's gonna kill me! - Don't be stupid, they aren't from Ukraine! - Oh, so it won't be on Inter [one of the nationwide channels]? - No.

It is very, very cold. A girl with a tray walks around, offering hot tea in plastic cups to everyone: journalists, protesters, priests. A woman with a plastic bag offers cookies to everyone.

When the Ukrainian anthem begins to play, many people sing along and foreign journalists take their hats off and stand still.

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