WATCH: Under pressure from European leaders, Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych backed down and signed a peace deal with the opposition. But, protesters say they are staying put until he is out of office. Mike Drolet reports.
After witnessing the deadliest day in the Ukraine’s 22 years since independence, embattled President Viktor Yanukovych signed an agreement with three opposition leaders to hold presidential elections by the end of the year and to restore the 2004 constitution.
The deal – witnessed by European Union officials from Poland, Germany, France – came after at least 75 people were killed on Thursday as protesters battled with riot police and government-ordered snipers fired on the crowds in Kyiv’s Independence Square.
According to The Associated Press, a Russian mediator refused to sign the deal and a senior Russian lawmaker criticized it as being crafted for the West.
Markian Shwec, chair of Toronto’s Maidan committee, a group that has organized several protests in support of the Ukraine demonstrators, has been watching the past week’s developments closely. He sees promise in the agreement signed on Friday.
“We said either [Yanukovych] will go crazy and kill lots of people and stay in power and do anything he has to or saner heads will prevail around him. … And it was kind of both,” Shwec said in a phone interview.
The dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries this week prompted condemnation and sanctions from foreign governments, Canada among them.
Among other things, the government agreed to adopt a law to restore the 2004 constitution within 48 hours and complete constitutional reform by September.
There will also be an investigation into the violence on both sides. Authorities have agree to refrain from further use of violence and the government cannot impose a state of emergency.
Also, according to the agreement, Parliament will adopt an amnesty “covering the same range of illegal actions as the 17th February 2014 law.”
But the opposition also had to agree to dismantle the protest camps and withdraw from occupied administrative and public buildings, as well as unblock streets, parks and squares.
For now, protesters are holding their ground in the square.
“The Maidan will stand up until Yanukovych leaves,” 29-year-old protester Anataly Shevchuk told The Associated Press. “That’s the main demand, both for those who were killed, and for those who are still standing on the Maidan.”
No deadline for leaving the camp in central Kyiv has been set and many protesters are likely to move out slowly, both because of the emotional closeness the camp fostered and out of distrust that the deal will actually be implemented, The Associated Press reported.
Shwec said the protesters need to keep pressing to make sure the country moves forward.
“I think as long as the guys outside keep pressing … it might get much better than it ever was,” he said.
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Shwec believes the further erosion of Yanukovych’s wealthy support base also contributed to him relenting and signing the agreement.
“Big oligarchs, who own big businesses, are being threatened.”
And while the focus has been on Kyiv, Schwec said, the government has been terrorizing its citizens in cities and towns throughout the country.
“There’s a lot of terrorism going on behind the scenes that nobody sees,” Shwec said. ” Across the country, the secret service and the police and the government tax agencies – every arm of the government they can find – is being used to repress people.” He added there are government-hired thugs that harass and attack people known to be in opposition to Yanukovich’s regime.
As the days went on and the violence swelled this week, Shwec said, more of Yanukovych’s wealthy supporters distanced themselves or left Ukraine altogether.
There was also a significant shift in allegiance on Thursday, when Kyiv mayor Voldymyr Makeyenko quit Yanukovych’s Regions Party.
“As head of the city administration, I am overseeing the burial of dozens of bodies of ordinary people every day,” he said. “My main aim is to save the lives of Ukrainians. I will be the chair of the Kyiv city administration as long as the people of Ukraine trust me.”
READ MORE: Ukraine’s breaking point
The EuroMaidan protests, as they have become known, were born out of Yanukovych’s decision late last year to abandon ties with the European Union and strengthen a relationship with Russia.
The ensuing demonstration evolved into a fight for a complete change of government after Yanukovych cracked down on the protesters.
Friday’s agreement also paved the way for the release of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.
After Yanukovych won the election the year before, Tymoshenko was charged with abusing power as premier in a natural gas deal with Russia and detained.
Her supporters and foreign governments have been calling for her release ever since.
Ukraine’s parliament voted in favour of decriminalizing the charge laid against Tymoshenko in 2011.
Tymoshenko is seen as one of the preeminent opposition leaders in the country and favoured the EU deal Yanukovych quashed in November.
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