Meet the Brains Behind Ukraine's Massive Protests

Organizers include an anarchist, an ex-TV host, and a former boxing champion.
People supporting EU integration attend a rally in Kiev. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Here's a look at the politicians and street organizers driving Ukraine's "EuroMaydan" protests (a movement supporting integration with the European Union) following President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject an EU trade deal under pressure from Moscow. 

Yehor Sobolev (RFE/RL)

Yehor Sobolev, one of the "commandants" of Kyiv's EuroMaydan protests, has kept a watchful eye on Viktor Yanukovych since his early days as a financial reporter in the president's hometown of Donetsk. In 2004, as a freelance journalist, he gained rare access to Yanukovych and his staff during the controversial election that led to the Orange Revolution and the first Maydan protests. 

The Democracy Report

Sobolev went on to tackle censorship on Ukraine's central television channels as head of Kyiv's media labor union and became the co-host of the popular Vremya news program. He abandoned television, however, after fallouts with oligarchs Petro Poroshenko, the head of Vremya broadcaster Channel 5, and Rinat Akhmetov, who broke Sobolev's contract just two hours after hiring him as a top editor at his Ukrayina station. (Sobolev's wife, Marichka Padalka, is herself a popular television host.)

Sobolev went on to create an independent center for investigative reporting, but finally left journalism for good this year, with the formation of his political activist group, Volya (Will). One of his first actions was storming the Kyiv city administration this summer in a protest over the failure to hold a mayoral election. As EuroMaydan continues, Sobolev has proved an able strategist, mapping out blockades and urging cool heads.

"Throwing stones only hurts people and takes away our moral high ground," he wrote in a December 2 blog post, one day after violent clashes between protesters and police outside the presidential administration building. "Give [the authorities] a chance to feel that no one need be thrown out. Show even Yanukovych himself that it's possible to walk away. Lure ministers and regional leaders with the notion of joining the people before it's too late. Between this and paralyzing the streets, the government will fall."

Many EuroMaydan participants were chagrined when a group of masked demonstrators broke away from what had been a peaceful mass protest, using a truck and brute force to storm past riot police into the presidential administration building on December 1. The strong-arm tactics, which police met with truncheons and tear gas, have sparked rumors of a provocation aimed at steering the pro-European demonstrations off-course. And some suspect the ringleader may be Dmytro Korchinskiy, the 49-year-old leader of Bratstvo (Brotherhood), a political organization that describes its ideology as "Christian Orthodox national-anarchism."

Korchinskiy wields both pen and sword: a published poet and philosopher, he was also the founder of the 1990s ultra-radical Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) and the head of its paramilitary wing. During his time with the UNA, Korchinskiy was given to fierce pronouncements, saying death was the only path to self-discovery. For Bratstvo, however, he has adopted a more playful tone, describing politics as a "fun" vocation that falls somewhere between literature and music.

Websites reported eyewitnesses as saying Korchinskiy, with his distinctive mustache, was visible among the crowd that first stormed the presidential building, but soon disappeared from the scene. The Interior Ministry later announced that as many as 300 Bratstvo members had participated in the siege. Critics have taken to Twitter, calling him a "cockroach" in the alleged pay of pro-Russian strategist Viktor Medvedchuk. Korchinskiy has denied the claims, saying Yanukovych is to blame for the protest's violent turn. "If the Ukrainian people only disliked him yesterday, today they hate him," he said. "This is no longer a public protest, it's an uprising."

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