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Medway woman returns to Ukraine after watching the crisis unfold on TV

By Medway Messenger reporter

Cooling couple Niyole and Mark Stratford have been spending time in tension-filled Ukraine. For Niyole it was a return to her home country after watching horrors unfold on TV. Messenger community correspondent Melanie Wright, who travelled with the Stratfords, reports.

Watching television coverage of the fight to oust President Viktor Yanukovych, which ended with 53 people killed in the bloodiest struggle, made a distraught Niyole Stratford feel helpless.

“It made me cry so much to watch my city burn,” she said. “I felt helpless and I was in constant contact with my friends and family there to make sure they were OK.

“I know everyone is expecting more confrontation between anti-government protesters and government authorities. It is just a matter of when.”

Niyole and Mark Stratford in Kiev, Ukraine

The political situation is one that I can’t fully get to grips with, it is so confusing. What I do understand is that years of corruption and bribery and Kremlin interference has made politics very dirty.

But there are some politicians who are trying to clean up the system in order to have closer ties with the West. Hence part of the conflict.

I met many of Niyole’s friends and former colleagues, some of whom were caught up that night in February; and with food and money some are supporting the self-defence units still camped across the Maidan (Independence Square), where they’ll stay until the presidential election on May 25.

Melanie Wright in Ukraine

These units of mainly poorly-trained men of all ages mooch around their tents; chopping wood for braziers and cooking stoves, sweeping up debris, stacking huge containers of water, and preparing food.

Older, former military men teach the younger ones the precise art of marching and combat. And although chaotic, the Maidan does seem to have some sort of order, with refuse, wood and defence materials stacked up.

Floral tributes and religious objects are everywhere, as are pictures of the dead.

Members of a self-defence unit standing in front of floral tributes to the dead in Kiev

The makeshift medical clinic staffed by volunteers was formerly a boutique. Food donated to patients in a nearby hospital who are still recovering is welcomed. Some of them are so traumatised they can hardly speak.

Protesters who demanded cleaner politics and an end to Soviet ties paid a heavy price for wanting freedom. But I fear we haven’t heard the last of this.

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