The long-advertised "Day of Social Protest," scheduled for March 18 by leftist and some ethnic Russian organizations in Ukraine, drew a significant level of support, though clearly short of expectations. The organizers claimed that 340,000 people participated in various forms of protest across the country. The authorities, having deployed 50,000 policemen country-wide to maintain order if necessary, reported only 85,000 participants in the protests. Rallies averaging 2,000 to 5,000 in size took place mainly in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Zaporizha, and Odessa, as well as in Kiev and the Crimean capital Simferopol. The Ukrainian Popular Movement-Rukh mounted an anti-Communist counterdemonstration in Kiev to urge an acceleration of economic reforms.
The mainstream trade unions disavowed the leftist protests and urged workers to disobey the call to strike. In the coal-mining industry only four mines were reported on strike yesterday, out of a total of 227. The government had moved last week to cover some of the wage arrears in that sector. Absent trade union support and reduced mostly to a leftist core, some of yesterday’s protests aired purely political demands, such as "state status" for the Russian language, a change in Ukraine’s western-oriented foreign policy, and a rapprochement with Russia. (Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, Itar-Tass, March 18)
While breathing a sigh of relief today, the government is braced for another wave of protests scheduled for May 1 against the social costs of economic reforms. Although yesterday’s leftist actions fell short of their goal, they illustrated the risks assumed by the top leadership in promoting economic reforms. Those risks include a possible merger of social grievances with destabilizing political demands in eastern Ukraine.
Kuchma Orders Investigation Into Journalist’s Suspicious Death.