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A Tale of Two Star-Crossed Lovers on the Front Lines of Ukraine's Protests

Lida Pankiv is a journalist and anti-government protester in Kiev, and in December she found herself in a most unusual situation one the front lines of the Ukrainian capital's anti-government protests. Along with a friend, Pankiv inserted herself between a cordon of Berkut riot police and a group of protesters, hoping to stave off a clash between the two. One of the police officers overheard Pankiv dictating her number to a friend.  A few hours later he sent the woman a text message, asking for her hand in marriage. "I stood in front of you with a shield last night, first I thought you are crazy, but then, when you and your friend stopped us, I realized I want to marry you," he wrote.

"First you will have to lower your shield," she responded. Several days later, he warned her to leave the Maidan, the Kiev square that has become the stronghold of anti-government demonstrators since anti-government protests began in November. Half an hour after his warning, police stormed the square.

Pankiv asked the officer, whose name hasn't been released and who hasn't commented publicly, to meet her on her side of the barricades. Though her heart reportedly "belonged to another," as she told Kyiv Post, the two crossed the barricades for a meeting. They spent an hour together before he had to return to his unit. That night at the barricades was the first time they managed to get together, but Ukraine's descent into chaos didn't prevent them from seeing each other  again.

Their story has gone viral in Ukraine, where on Saturday the tensions that had been fueling intense street battles between police and protesters for days exploded into an outright revolution. Parliament impeached the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych, and ordered the country's military back to its barracks. Jubilant protesters mobbed downtown Kiev and pored into Yanukovych's deserted mansion, gawking at its life-size pirate ship, private zoo, and veritable museum of expensive, antique cars. In a dramatic scene, the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was released from the prison where she had spent the last two and a half years on a corruption conviction that was widely seen been as politically motivated. 

Against this charged background, the couple's tale of unlikely love came as an unexpected example of unity in a country that has become bitterly divided over the protest movement. On Friday, Pankiv was supposed to tell the story of her lovesick Berkut officer on INTER, a pro-government news channel. "You probably want to hear the story of how I held back the Berkut all night with my bare hands," she said.

Instead, she chose to tell a very different story.

While in December she told the Kyiv Post that she was "happy to know that there are people like that man in Ukraine's police force," today, after some one hundred protesters have died at the hands of the Berkut, she says she hates him. And everything he represents.  

"I'll tell you a story of how I carried dead bodies with my bare hands yesterday. Yesterday, two of my friends were killed," the 24-year-old woman told the audience in the studio.

Here's the television interview in full:

Pankiv was composed, though visibly emotional. "You probably want to hear the story of how a Berkut officer fell in love with me and I fell in love with him. But no, I've grown to hate him." She said she hates various Ukrainian officials, including the now former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Yanukovych, the ousted president. "I hate the people who carry out their criminal orders."

And then, in the blue-lit talk show studio, surrounded by a confounded group of guests that included two somber-looking priests, she said she had decided to participate in the interview when she heard it would be broadcast live.

"And I want to say I hate the INTER station for lying to its viewers for three months and spreading hatred among the citizens of our country," she said. "You know are calling for unity and peace ... The only thing you can do is host your shows on your knees." The audience erupted in applause.

She brought photos of the victims of police brutality and showed them to the confounded host. "I want my dead friends to haunt you in your dreams."

Then, she stood up and left. "I'm sorry, I do not have more time, I'm going back to the Maidan. Glory to Ukraine!"

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Think That Kiev Agreement Will Hold? Think Again.

After days of bloody street battles in central Kiev that may have left as many as 100 people dead, protest leaders signed an agreement Friday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to end the stand-off. The deal curtails the powers of the president, sets the stage for a national unity government to be formed within 10 days, and establishes that constitutional reform will begin immediately. Upon the adoption of a new constitution, presidential elections will be held, no later than December 2014.

But the very conditions that have made this agreement possible -- a level of violence on the streets of Kiev that had been previously unimaginable -- also places this agreement on extremely shaky ground. The agreement pointedly does not call for Yanukovych, the protesters' hated enemy, to step down. Moreover, it's far from clear that opposition leaders were eager to sign this agreement. Just have a look at the video below, which shows Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski dressing down a protest leader during a break in the negotiations. Sikorski, clearly frustrated, snaps at the man: "If you don't support this you will have martial law, you'll have the army, you'll all be dead."

That protest leaders are unwilling to back down should come as no surprise: The agreement forces them to sit down across the table from the man whose security forces have killed dozens of their comrades.

Perhaps worse, the Russian representative at the talks, Vladimir Lukin, refused to sign the agreement. "I am upset that the Russian are not signatories. I am really upset," Arsenij Yatsenyuk, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal, told the New York Times. As you can see in the photo of the signed agreement below, Lukin's signature is painfully absent from the final version of the document.

The action now appears to have shifted to the Ukrainian parliament, where on Friday lawmakers voted to allow the release of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Earlier in the day, parliament sacked the interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who is widely seen as responsible for the brutal tactics used by police in their effort to clear protesters from central Kiev. On Thursday, Parliament voted to strip Yanukovych, the president, of his ability to declare martial law. 

But even as the opposition moves to curtail the president's power in Parliament, the text of the agreement to end the stand-off still hovers in the background. That agreement requires "both parties" to "understake serious efforts for the normalisation of life in the cities and villages by wihtdrawing from administrative and publc buildings and unblocking streets, city parks, and squares." With this quasi-victory in hand will the protesters on the Maidan be willing to pack up and leave the square? Sounds unlikely. And what does that mean for the agreement?

For the curious, here is the full text of that agreement.

 

Agreement.on.the.settlement.of.the.crisis.in.Ukraine

 

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images