By Mick Krever, CNN
After months of protests, the very “civilized” future of Ukraine is at stake, acclaimed Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov told CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, on Wednesday.
“There are lots of things at stake,” he said from Kiev. “The European, or the civilized, future of Ukraine; but most of all, actually, is the question of rule of law.”
“For 23 years there was no rule of law in the country, nobody was respecting the laws, and actually the laws were used to punish the enemies.”
President Yanukovych, in power since 2010, is using those same tactics to punish his enemies, Kurkov said.
There is no sign that protestors, hunkered down since November in far-below-freezing temperatures, are ready to quit.
At least four people have been killed since the protests began, when the president reversed a decision to sign a long awaited trade deal with the EU.
“There is a big a split – bigger split than it was before – and the split was created by the politicians,” Kurkov said.
When demonstrations first started, he claimed, the government bussed people in from the Eastern part of the country and paid them to take part in the demonstrations as a way of portraying the protests as a battle between “two ways of thinking.”
Ukraine’s first post-independence president, Leonid Kravchuk, warned on Wednesday that the country was on the “brink of civil war,” but Kurkov called that an exaggeration.
The government has blamed unrest on foreign interference; Kurkov said that any foreign meddling has come from Russia, which supports the government, no one else.
“Most of [the protestors] came from small towns and villages in the Western part, in central part of Ukraine,” he said.
Many do not even understand what the idea of “Europe” means – for them the protests are no longer about a free trade deal, but about “this government, the corruption, the lack of rule of law.”
Kurkov, who lives just a few hundred meters from the main Independence Square where demonstrators are camped out, said that everyday life in Kiev has remained normal.
But in the square, where many protestors now wear makeshift armor, “there is a kind of wartime zone,” he said.
“They are very traumatized psychologically, people who are staying here for two months.”
In the beginning, he explained, protestors readily spoke to strangers. Now, they hide their faces – “they are very gloomy.”
They don’t expect anything good, he said, either from the government or from the opposition that has taken up the protestors’ cause.
“If [the] president finally promises early elections, for example – not 2015, March, as it is planned, but the end of 2014 – maybe that would be enough to stop the protests,” he said.