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Ukrainians sit on an armored personnel carrier vehicle as they attend a gathering on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on June 1. / Sergey Dolzhenko, epa

KIEV, Ukraine - They had already broken down their dusty khaki tent, and now, the three fresh-faced young men and their two middle-aged comrades were dismantling the wood-and-tire barriers that had guarded it.

It was the first tent to come down in the military-style protesters' camp on fashionable Kreshatik Street - Kiev's Rodeo Drive - since Ukrainians elected their new president, Petro Poroshenko, who was inaugurated Saturday.

Ninety-nine percent of Kiev residents would have cheered the dismantling, hoping it heralded the imminent disappearance of the entire tent city, according to Serhiy Solodky, deputy director of the Kiev-based Institute for World Policy.

The makeshift city dates back to when some of the hundreds of thousands of protesters who engineered the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich in February erected tents and wooden shelters along Kreshatiak and adjoining Maidan Square to dissuade Yanukovich's pro-Russian supporters from trying to retake the area.

Now, residents have had enough of the eyesore of the camp and the problems some of its occupants have spawned, Solodky said.

Many camp residents, however, vow to stay until they see whether Poroshenko ends what they consider Ukraine's 23-year streak of inept and corrupt leaders since independence in 1991.

Their determination will be a test for newly installed mayor Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champ who has said publicly that the camp must go. Klitschko, a political novice, was elected in the same nationwide balloting that ushered in Poroshenko.

Maidan is where Yanukovich's militia killed more than 100 of those protesting his decision - under Russian pressure - to scrap an economic deal that would have moved Ukraine closer to the European Union.

The three young men dismantling their tent said they were heading east to Donetsk and Lugansk, cities in Ukraine's pro-Russian heartland, to help defend Ukrainian territory. The region has seen bloody clashes between the Ukrainian military and separatists.

Other camp residents said they will continue to occupy the twin jewels of Ukraine's capital of 3 million. Kreshatik and Maidan boast Kiev's trendiest shopping area and its revered monuments to independence.

"We want to see what Poroshenko and Klitschko are going to do before we leave," said Serhiy, a middle-aged former army tank commander from Kiev, who asked that his last name be withheld because of personal security concerns. "We've come to understand that almost all politicians are liars and cheats."

Several of those working in shops and kiosks in the Kreshatik and Maidan areas wish the tent city were gone. They worry that the grunge of the camp and the unpleasant behavior of some of those in it are scaring off business.

"We are really fed up with this," complained Daria, a 22-year-old waitress at a café on Maidan - or Independence - Square, as she waved her hand toward the grimy tents and barricades around them, some topped with barbed wire. She also asked that her last name be withheld because of safety reasons.

A manager at the Gucci store on the Passage, an offshoot of Kreshatik that includes Louis Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli and other oases for the well-heeled, said business is a fraction of what it was before the anti-Yanukovich demonstrations began in November of last year.

Other residents complain that many in the camp drink too much, panhandle and are confrontational with curious visitors who approach their tents.

Klitschko faces a challenge in trying to clear Kreshatik and Maidan. The areas are considered hallowed ground because so many were martyred there. Banners with photos of many of the dead, ranging in age from 17 to 83, hang in Maidan to commemorate their sacrifice.

How Klitschko handles the situation may help determine his political future. Solodky said many political observers believe he covets the presidency someday and is using the mayor's office as a steppingstone toward that goal.

"Klitschko definitely has to deal with this issue, but at the same time, it's a very delicate issue," he said. He'll probably address other challenges first while taking the time to come up with a constructive Maidan solution, Solodky said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Ukraine protesters vow to keep Kiev tent city

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