From priests to traders, Ukrainians pitch in to help protesters

As hundreds of protesters dig in for the long haul on Kiev's main square, a network of traders, priests and anonymous Ukrainians has sprung up to help them defy the cold and the government.

Inside the improvised camp on Independence Square where die-hard protesters have slept out every night this week, Ilya, a man in his 30s, was unloading and chopping wood with a group of friends.

They piled up the logs and the protesters helped themselves to fuel for braziers scattered across the huge central square, occupied since Sunday evening by Ukrainians who back closer ties with the European Union.

The wood is delivered by supporters who make regular trips, Ilya said.

"They cover 20 kilometres (12 miles) or 70 kilometres to deliver this. They bring it from far away so that people can warm themselves up," he said, wrapped in an overcoat and wearing a cap.

Hot food and drinks on tap

"Practically every hour, people come here with food, a lot of food. They are all on strike," Ilya said.

Bread, salami, soup, porridge, coffee and tea: local businesses were handing out an ample selection of food for free on the square, known as the Maidan in Kiev.

On streets close to the giant camp, many cafes were advertising "free tea for the Euro Maidan."

A restaurant called LaCantina was serving up hot food and drink all day long.

"We help whatever way we can. The restaurant is working 24 hours and every three or four hours we try to cook a hot dish or soup" to feed the Maidan protesters, said the manager, Ivan Nemenko.

"The restaurant backs the European Union," he said.

Andrei Sidorenko was one of the protesters who had come to fill up on the food.

The moustachioed man said he had been living on the Maidan since Sunday. He had even sold his iPad to get cash to buy food after arriving at the camp with just 1 hryvnia (around one euro cent) in his pocket.

"People have to show solidarity. This is a historic moment for Ukraine. Either we will become a truly democratic country, or we will become slaves," he said.

Prayers for those arrested

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to the Kiev Patriarchate were also strongly involved in the effort.

On Saturday, after the violent dispersal of protesters on Maidan by riot police, around one hundred of those camped out took refuge in the Mikhailovsky Orthodox monastery in Kiev. They were given food, shelter for the night and medical treatment before returning to Independence Square the next day.

Priests were also holding prayers several times a day on the square.

On Wednesday, a dozen Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests wearing ribbons in the colours of the Ukrainian and European Union flags, prayed for the protesters arrested over the last few days.

They chanted while raising a giant Ukrainian flag.

"Our seminary, which is in the city of Drohobych (in Western Ukraine), has been here for a week. We are helping to distribute food," said one of the priests, Father Vitaly.

"We are taking part in these protests because we belong to our country... We were always taught that Ukraine is part of Europe," said the priests, who had lived more than ten years in Italy and Poland before returning to Ukraine.

He also rebuked President Viktor Yanukovych for not supporting freedom of religion in Ukraine, where the Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate is the dominant force.

That Orthodox Church has not taken part in the protest movement.

Father Vitaly said that around 100 protesters attended a nearby church each day. "They come and rest for two or three hours. It is cold outside. Our doors are always open," he said.