For three months, they've staked their claim to Kiev's Maidan, or Independence Square, and to Ukraine itself. We will leave only when you pull closer to the European Union, when you change the constitution, when you alter the government's power structure, they have loudly insisted.
Why have thousands of protesters staked their lives, seemingly, on their desire for political change? And why has the government resisted their calls so vehemently?
Let's take a look:
1. What prompted the protests?
At the heart of the protests is a trade pact. For a year, President Viktor Yanukovych insisted he was intent on signing a historical political and trade agreement with the European Union. But on November 21, he decided to suspend talks with the EU.
2. What would the pact have done?
The deal, the EU's "Eastern Partnership," would have created closer political ties and generated economic growth. It would have opened borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion, supporters of the pact said.
3. Why did Yanukovych backpedal?
He had his reasons. Chief among them was Russia's opposition to it. Russia threatened its much smaller neighbor with trade sanctions and steep gas bills if Ukraine forged ahead. If Ukraine didn't, and instead joined a Moscow-led Customs Union, it would get deep discounts on natural gas, Russia said.
4. Were there any other reasons?
Yes, a more personal one. Yanukovych also was facing a key EU demand that he was unwilling to meet: Free former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his bitter political opponent. Two years ago, she was found guilty of abuse of office in a Russian gas deal and sentenced to seven years in prison, in a case widely seen as politically motivated. Her supporters say she needs to travel abroad for medical treatment.
5. What happened next?
Many Ukrainians were outraged. They took to the streets, demanding that Yanukovych sign the EU deal. Their numbers swelled. The demonstrations drew parallels to Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, which booted Yanukovych, then a prime minister, from office.
6. Who's heading the opposition?
It's not just one figure, but a coalition. The best known figure is Vitali Klitschko. He's a former world champion boxer (just like his brother Wladimir). Klitschko heads the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party. But the oppositon bloc goes well beyond Klitschko and the UDAR. There's also Arseniy Yatsenyuk. (More on him later.)
7. How did Yanukovych react?
In a way that inflamed passions further. He flew to Moscow, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would buy $15 billion in Ukrainian debt and slash the price Kiev pays for its gas. And then, when the demonstrations showed no signs of dying down, he adopted a sweepting anti-protest law.
8. What did the anti-protest law say?
The law barred people from wearing helmets and masks to rallies and from setting up tents or sound equipment without prior police permission. This sparked concerns it could be used to put down demonstrations and deny people the right to free speech -- and clashes soon escalated. The demonstrators took over City Hall for the better part of three months.
9. But wasn't the law repealed?
Yes, ultimately it was. Amid intense pressure, deputies loyal to Yanukovych backtracked and overturned it. But by then, the protests had become about something much bigger: constitutional reform.
10. What change in the constitution did they want to see?
The protesters want to see a change in the government's overall power structure. They feel that too much power rests with Yanukovych and not enough with parliament.
11. What did the government do?