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Protesters storm streets in Ukraine after president refuses agreement with EU

December 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hundreds of thousands of protesters have stormed the streets of the Ukrainian capital in recent days, upset that the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, walked away from a deal with the European Union after warnings from Russia.

We begin our coverage with a report from Kiev by Matt Frei of Independent Television News.

 MATT FREI: Ukraine’s winter of discontent has only just begun. Today, protesters were back on the streets of Kiev, their intention, to paralyze government by blockading it.

Thousands of demonstrators marched on the seats of executive power at the Cabinet of Ministers’ headquarters.

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“We have to block entire streets, the streets behind us also, to make sure that not even one official will get to their office,” this protester shouted.

So far, it seems to have worked. The Ukrainian government is paralyzed between protesters calling for revolution and President Putin of Russia threatening at least economic revenge if Ukraine rekindles its flirtation with the E.U. It’s not the first time that Ukraine, a nation of 45 million souls, finds itself in this tug of war between Eastern and Western Europe.

Nine years ago, the Orange Revolution led to a rerun of suspect elections and Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster from office. He seems determined not to repeat that experience. The question is whether he has overplayed his hand by giving into Russian demands.

The new generation of protesters empowered by the memories and failed promises of the Orange Revolution and the organizational tool of the Internet are equally determined not to give in. For them, this battle is about the soul of their nation. They were outraged by the government’s 11th-hour U-turn against an agreement with the E.U., which would have been an essential milestone towards full E.U. membership.

The toxic situation here was further inflamed by the heavy and brutal hand of the police. The riot police used tear gas, baton charges and stun grenades. The protesters responded with rocks. The result? Dozens of injured on both sides and a foretaste of things to come in a crisis with no elegant or obvious solution.