KIEV, Ukraine – Thousands of Ukrainians marched Saturday through central Kyiv to commemorate the 80th anniversary of a devastating Soviet-era famine that killed millions amid public anger over the government’s decision to snub a potential landmark deal with the European Union and tilt toward Moscow.
The famine was engineered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1932-33, in an attempt to force peasants to join collective farms. Ukraine’s parliament has labeled the famine, known here as Holodomor — or death by hunger — as genocide.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 activists protested on Kyiv’s main square, days after the government froze plans to sign the EU deal after pressure from Moscow. A larger rally is planned for Sunday.
After months of promising to sign a long-awaited political and trade accord with the EU, the government announced Thursday that it was halting those plans and would focus on restoring ties with Russia instead.
The move has been deemed a victory for Moscow, which has used threats and sanctions to keep Ukraine in its orbit.
Angry demonstrators gathered across the country to denounce President Viktor Yanukovych’s turnaround, urging him to change his mind and sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, scheduled for next week.
An opinion poll conducted in October found that 45 per cent of Ukrainians favour stronger ties with the EU, 14 per centfavoured an economic alliance with Russia, while the rest were either against any alliances or were undecided. The GFK Ukraine polling agency, that conducted the research, said the poll questioned 1,000 people and its margin of error was 3 percentage points.
“We will show the authorities that they cannot ignore the choice of the majority of people,” said Vitaly Klitschko, an opposition leader and former world heavyweight boxing champion.
Klitschko urged Ukrainians to turn out for the Sunday rally. “We will show them that together we are a force that can win.”
© The Associated Press, 2013