Comedian turned president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky's unlikely rise to power was based in large part on convincing voters that he would dramatically ease tensions with Russia and seek a peaceful resolution to the war in Donbass, raging since 2014.
But now in a potentially explosive Maiden 2.0 scenario, hardcore Ukrainian nationalists have taken to the Kiev square which has come to symbolize resistance to Russia in order to protest the popular president's dovish and rapprochement-signalling policies. Hours after Zelensky gave an unprecedented go ahead to allow a local election in Donbass which could result in Kiev granting a special status to the region, hundreds of nationalists flooded the square holding signs that read: "No to capitulation!".
Zelensky insisted all candidates and political parties should be allowed to run according to Ukrainian law, which has enraged the anti-Russian nationalists, who say Ukraine's sovereignty is on the line. The new election has the blessing of Russia and European monitors.
In central Kiev tonight, some familiar scenes. A protest against on the Maidan. Against Zelensky's announcement today.pic.twitter.com/27iOfSopEV— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) October 1, 2019
Both government and pro-Russian separatist forces have agreed to withdraw troops from key locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions next week to ensure "free and fair" elections, which international monitors will also observe.
One journalist and political commentator noted the neo-Nazi imagery used in this and other hardline nationalist protests in Kiev's Maidan, which has for years tainted some of the country's far right militias and political parties.
Ukraine’s fascists in torchlit march against their Jewish president, accusing him of “capitulation” over peace moves.— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) October 1, 2019
We really fucked Ukraine up good. Not that anyone in the west gives a damn. https://t.co/Onzdt8sCHF
Former president Petro Poroshenko also added fuel to the fire, saying the agreement is "a capitulation to Russia".
"Without that, this [Minsk agreement] is capitulation to Russia. I draw your attention to the fact that they [the Ukrainian government] were not offered anything, they were offered only to be there at the meeting. And for this meeting Ukraine risks paying and surrendering," he said.
Poroshenko further echoed other critics who've said Ukraine is not gaining anything from the agreement after sacrificing soldiers that died fighting the separatists in a conflict that's taken 13,000 lives - thousands of them civilians - on both sides.
Meanwhile, Russia has welcomed the news, with one senior Russian politician hailing it as "a victory for common sense and an overall success." Kremlin officials also said they hope this will lead to substantive peace talks on the ground.