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Tent tenets in force amid Ukrainian protests

Safety and security have been a priority among the political activists that have camped out over the last month as part of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. NBC New's Alexa Chopivsky reports from Kiev on the well-organized and peaceful revolutionaries.
Ukrainians, some wearing orange, the color of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's presidential campaign, watch a TV broadcast from the Central Election Commission in the Yushchenko supporters' tent camp in Kiev, on Monday. Ivan Sekretarev / AP
/ Source: NBC News

“No drinking and no drugs allowed. We are well-organized,” said Aleksei Mickulich, 17, describing the tent city on Kiev's Khreshchatyk Street where at the height of the Orange Revolution, some 3,000 people aged 14-60 camped out to protest the fraud-ridden Ukrainian presidential election.

Not just anyone can enter the tent city. Would be protesters need documents and special permission — a necessary vetting process because, like in every community, safety is a priority.

Alcohol is forbidden. For young boys impassioned by a falsified election and prospects of a dim future in their native land, Mickulich explained, it potentially could be a precursor to violent behavior.

“We are peaceful protesters and want to stay that way,” said Mickulich.

Security enforced
Mickulich and Dmitry Shaiduko, 20, are first-year economics and engineering students at a local university. But since November 24, they have served as security chiefs in this camp, where over a month after the start of the Revolution, 500 people still live.

Their fellow volunteers wear army uniforms donated by the Ukrainian military. In groups of two they wander in and out of tents, weaving their way around the various “villages” of Ukraine which each home represents.

The tent city has provided many conveniences. Sick? Visit the infirmary. Cold? Sit by the campfires and sip hot tea. Want entertainment? Listen to the folk band perform, help light the fireworks, or read original poems posted on the community board. Hungry? Head to the canteen, where dinner may consist of sticky white rice, tasty hot beef stew garnished with red peppers, and brown bread, donated by a local restaurant.

International pilgrimage
Ukrainians aren’t the only ones who made the pilgrimage here to show support for opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. People from Poland, Russia, Belarus, Holland, Switzerland — and even Tatarstan, a Russian colony, live here.

“We in Tatarstan want our independence too,” said Bary Dawletgareev, a Tatar journalist who runs his own newspaper back home. “Ukraine is an inspiration to us.”

The Kiev mayor, in a show of support, rerouted car traffic so that these protestors could rally in the streets.

The tent interiors look like communal dorm rooms. Carefully folded blankets rest at the foot of double-sized mattresses which line the walls. For privacy, each bed is separated by vertically hung sheets. An electric space heater provides warmth from freezing winter temperatures.

Outside, an orange-suited “Dyid Moroz,” or Santa Claus, handed out chocolate cookies and posed for pictures with campers in front of an orange Christmas tree. “Together we are many, we’ll not be defeated” — a chant first used by Spanish partisans during World War II and now a Yushchenko campaign slogan — blasted in Ukrainian from a nearby radio.

Spirit of celebration beginning
The pervading spirit here has been one of a sense of purpose and, now that Yushchenko is seen winning the Dec. 26 re-vote, celebration.

“It’s much easier for me to be at home in the village, on the land, where I have my pond, my cow, my wife,” said Petro Syrzhik, who first arrived at the camp November 26. “But if the revolution continues, we will stay and build tents out of bricks.”

“The protesters danced, they sang, they kissed each other. There was no violence,” said Oleh Lytvak, a Yushchenko supporter and Ukraine’s former Prosecutor General.

“They showed the world that we’re a strong nation.”

The pro-Yushchenko campers even persuaded supporters of rival candidate Viktor Yanukovich to switch loyalties.

“Those pretty Ukrainian girls came out of the camps, smeared their lips with lipstick, and kissed the Yanukovich boys,” said Lytvak. “And that was the end of the counter-Revolution.”