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Ukrainian hell of man caught in ‘revolution’

People raise their fists during a rally in Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. In a day that could significantly shift Ukraine's political destiny, opposition leaders signed a deal Friday with the country's beleaguered president that calls for early elections, a new constitution and a new unity government. Russian officials immediately criticized the deal and protesters angry over police violence showed no sign of abandoning their sprawling camp in central Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

People raise their fists during a rally in Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. In a day that could significantly shift Ukraine's political destiny, opposition leaders signed a deal Friday with the country's beleaguered president that calls for early elections, a new constitution and a new unity government. Russian officials immediately criticized the deal and protesters angry over police violence showed no sign of abandoning their sprawling camp in central Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

“You can cut the tension here with a knife – within a few hours something could happen and everything could blow up.”

They are the words of a former Fylde coast student who has found himself in the middle of tensions in Ukraine as the country witnessed its worst violence in decades.

Mike Latham has today told The Gazette how he avoided a run-in with the Russian mafia and has to stay indoors to avoid being suspected of spying after the city he is staying in was thrust into the spotlight of Ukraine’s revolution.

The 52-year-old, who studied at Rossall School and Blackpool Sixth Form College, is visiting his fiancée’s family in Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv.

Speaking to The Gazette from Kharkiv, Mr Latham said: “Everybody is looking over their shoulder, scared for their livelihoods.

“I’m in a flat on one of the main roads and there are cars going past with flags flying out the windows and horns going. It’s quite intimidating.

“When you go into the square it’s one against the other – you’re talking tens of thousands of people on both sides and there’s been pushing and shoving.

“There’s a 20ft Lenin statue in the square – the largest one outside Russia – and demonstrators tried to pull it down.

“It’s just simmering underneath the surface. What’s going to happen, I have no idea.”

There is a fierce tension in the country, which is divided in its support for Russia and the West.

But the strong anti-EU sentiment in Kharkiv, which is largely pro-Russian, means Mr Latham has to avoid talking or risk his accent attracting unwanted attention.

He said: “”If they hear a foreign accent, they worry you might be spying.

“The police here are not like police in the UK – if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will get hit. It’s surreal really, like being in the middle of a revolution.

“I was in a restaurant the other night with the family and they told me to shut up.

“I asked why and they said the mafia – the Russian mafia – had come in and were talking about the revolution.

“We just put our heads down and got out the door.

“Luckily, I’ve got my girlfriend’s family around to protect me. I wouldn’t like to be here on my own.”

After it emerged the country’s ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych had fled to the city from Kiev, tensions heightened over the weekend.

And Mr Latham, who now lives in Preston, said the civil unrest heightened as the number of demonstrators in the city trebled when they came to see former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Sent to jail in 2011, she was being held in Kharkiv until being released last weekend.

After arriving in the country on February 20 Mr Latham plans to leave on Monday and said there has been nothing so far to suggest the turmoil will stop him getting to the airport, 30km outside Kiev.

 

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