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Former Boxer Steps Up As Kiev Mayor, Spars With Remaining Activists


We're going to turn now to where Ukraine's uprising began, Kiev's Independence Square. At the time, ex-heavyweight boxing champ, Vitali Klitschko, was seen by many as the unofficial opposition leader. Now Klitschko has been elected Kiev's mayor. And he's trying to clean up the square and return the capital city to normal. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, he is not having an easy time of it.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Shortly after being elected Mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, came to the City Hall building, on the edge of Independence Square, which, since the uprising, is known simply as the Square or Maidan. He asked a small group, mainly city employees, to pass the word that it's time for the Maidan to return to normal, to show that Ukraine's capital is back in business.

MAYOR VITALI KLITSCHKO: (Through translator) Today, we need to get back to work for this city. We have to hold meetings to make decisions. I would like to address each of you, to make sure you understand this need.

KENYON: Out on the square, still crowded with tents, barricades and wood fires, reactions to Klitschko's call have been mixed. Mykola Kalina, a member of the so-called self-defense forces, who fought security forces loyal to the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, doesn't seem worried by the prospect of the tents coming down. He says, everything should remain in place until Petro Poroshenko appears, in the Square, as the new president on June 7.

MYKOLA KALINA: (Through translator) We'll leave everything in place until Poroshenko appears. After Inauguration Day, most of the demands of the Maidan would have been met. And then we can just clean everything up.

KENYON: But others, including hardline nationalist groups, such as Right Sektor, want everyone to know that they won't be going quietly.


KENYON: A dump truck raises its bed, in the Maidan, spilling yet another load of used tires onto the square, to join the thousands already there. Nationalists, in tattered fatigues, video the event to send the message that, as far as they are concerned, no one should be going anywhere just yet. Although everyone seems to cite the demands of the Maidan, referring to the calls for reform that drove the uprising, no one can say what those demands are precisely. But both activists and ordinary Ukrainians are reluctant to see this place return to normal, until they're sure the new government has gotten the message that the old corrupt ways of doing business are no longer acceptable.

TAMARA SHVETS: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Tamara Shvets says, Klitschko has barely assumed office and has no business ordering everyone to clear away from the Maidan. The people will know, she says, when it's time to pack up the tents. As someone reinforces a tent post nearby, Tamara points out a tall, metal flagpole. At the base of the pole is a picture of her husband, Viktor, shot and killed at the height of the bloodshed here. The picture is inscribed, from his wife, daughter and granddaughter. All along the street, above the square, walls, trees and patches of ground are adorned with such memorials, each one on the spot where someone was killed. More than three months after the worst of the violence, people still come here each day, to leave flowers or a poem, to take pictures or simply stand in silence. As city crews begin the task of cleaning up the Maidan, it's likely these homemade shrines will remain, at least for a while, to remind the new government to remain on the path to reform, mindful of the price Ukrainians paid to come this far. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.