Ukrainian protesters accuse leader of 'surrender' to Russia
October 6, 2019
Ukrainian protesters have accused President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of surrendering to Russia with his plan for local elections in the pro-Russian separatist east. The region has faced five years of violent conflict.
Zelenskiy said the step was needed to revive stalled peace talks on the contested region, which has been plagued by five years of violent conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops. But protesters slammed the president's plan as a concession to Russia.
Around 10,000 people, including veterans of the fighting in the eastern region, marched in downtown Kyiv on Sunday. They gathered on the Maidan, the city's main square and the focal point of the 2014 anti-Russian influence and pro-democracy movement.
Many carried signs reading "No to surrender!" and criticizing Zelenskiy.
Zelenskiy defended his plan for the elections, stating that the poll would follow Ukrainian law and feature candidates from Ukrainian political parties. He said the vote should be preceded by a ceasefire and a total prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.
A plan named after a German politician
Allowing elections in the eastern region is one component of a road map to peace that Moscow said was necessary in order to resume peace talks. The plan has been nicknamed the "Steinmeier formula" after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who previously served as foreign minister and helped propose the plan.
A peace deal brokered by France and Germany in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015, has proven unable to end the violent fighting that has claimed some 13,000 lives. The plan outlines broad autonomy for the region, as well as amnesty for the pro-Russian rebels. It was signed by Zelenskiy's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, who was among the protesters on Sunday.
Zelenskiy is preparing to meet Putin in a high-stakes summit to discuss the conflict in the east.