Ukraine quietly marked the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution on Wednesday, with both supporters and opponents of the mass protests pausing to recall an event that both sides agree changed this former Soviet republic.
No official festivities were planned, however, after Ukraine's political landscape shifted so dramatically earlier this year, returning to power the man whose fraud-marred vote sparked the uprising.
Little orange was visible on the streets of Kiev during the day, but as darkness fell, about 1,000 mostly elderly Ukrainians gathered on Independence Square under the flags of nationalist parties, listening to speaker after speaker urging them not to be discouraged.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the chief target of the protesters two years ago, acknowledged the movement's importance earlier in the day.
"Despite what anyone thinks about this page of our history, it was a turning point. ... (it brought) a new understanding of the relationship between the government and citizens," Yanukovych said at a Cabinet session.
Revolution included mass sit-in, rallies
The Orange Revolution began hours after the polls closed in the Nov. 21, 2004, presidential election between the Kremlin-backed Yanukovych and pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko. As the Central Election Commission began churning out fraudulent vote counts in favor of Yanukovych, Yushchenko summoned his supporters to Independence Square for a mass sit-in and night after night of rallies.
Twelve days later, the Supreme Court declared the vote count fraudulent and ordered a rerun, which Yushchenko won.
But the euphoria faded as Ukrainians grew disillusioned with the power struggles, rising gasoline and meat prices, and allegations of corruption among a group that had promised reform.
By the first anniversary, the Orange Revolution's supporters were divided against each other, and many were defeated in the March parliamentary election.
Yanukovych's pro-Russian party won the most votes, put together a majority coalition and formed the Cabinet.
Yanukovych — the victor of a vote recognized as Ukraine's freest and fairest ever — took back the premier's job, although Yushchenko remains president. Thanks to constitutional reforms demanded by his rivals, Yanukovych wields more power than before.
Yushchenko's popularity is so low that a recent opinion poll showed he would get less than 15 percent of the vote if he ran for re-election now.
'Bandits in Jail'
The revolution's slogans — including "Bandits in Jail," referring to corrupt bureaucrats and their businessman cronies — and its promises of a quick embrace by NATO and the European Union turned out to be naive. Members of Yushchenko's camp now, too, have been accused of corruption.
Even the reformers' promises of reducing Russia's influence in Ukraine proved difficult to keep. Analysts say Ukraine's dependence on Russian natural gas and oil means that the nation's 47 million citizens will continue to live in the Kremlin's long shadow.
But on the eve of the anniversary, the president defended his record in a televised interview, insisting the mass protests had brought results.
"The main thing that was achieved is something which you never feel when you have it — it is freedom," Yushchenko said. "It cannot be put on a sandwich, it cannot be seen by the size of your salary."
Many Ukrainians, however, expected more.
"We were very romantic and idealistic," former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose familiar braided blond hair and fiery speeches made her the revolution's heroine, told The Associated Press. "We believed that everything would happen quickly and beautifully."
Tymoshenko deliberately scheduled a visit with European officials in Brussels during the anniversary.
Only a small gathering
She has said that Ukraine's political leaders won't deserve to celebrate the anniversary of the Orange Revolution until they keep the promises they made to hundreds of thousands of protesters two years ago.
Still, there was a small gathering on Independence Square late Wednesday. Some people had erected a few small tents, recalling the tent city of young protesters that sprang up on the boulevard leading to the square in 2004. But unlike last year's commemorations, no stage was set up and no concerts or fireworks were planned.
"I am not here for Yushchenko or Tymoshenko or any of those other politicians," said Mila Zavhorodna, 71, who waved a small orange flag. "I am here for us, for the people who stood on the square two years ago, for Ukrainians. Of course, we are all disappointed but we have to stand up and acknowledge what we achieved. ... We achieved the freedom to be here."