KIEV -- A convoy of supporters of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko moved deeper yesterday into the hostile eastern strongholds of his rival, who has ignored their requests for safe passage.
Dubbed the "friendship journey," the convoy of about 50 cars draped with Yushchenko's orange campaign colors headed to the industrial city of Zaporizhia, said Natalya Shypovalova, a convoy member and journalist.
Carrying about 150 people, mostly artists and musicians, the convoy is traveling around this nation of 48 million to sow support for Yushchenko ahead of the presidential rerun on Sunday. Much of the traveling has been in the country's Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions from where his Moscow-backed rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, draws his support.
The convoy has encountered several roadblocks put up by Yanukovych's supporters. Fearing violence, the organizers had not decided whether to travel today to Yanukovych's hometown of Donetsk.
"We need protection to go to Donetsk and we are negotiating about that with law enforcement agencies," Shypovalova said.
In a letter to Yanukovych, organizers of the road show urged him "to influence his supporters to grant us free passage to the city and refrain from aggression," coordinator Olga Khodovanets said.
Yanukovych has not responded to the opposition's requests for safe passage and refrained from comment on the motorcade.
The organizers yesterday canceled their visit to the Black Sea city of Sevastopol, fearing incidents with more than 200 Yanukovych supporters who blocked the city's main square early yesterday. The Unian new agency reported that Yanukovych's backers there damaged several cars decorated with Yushchenko's orange ribbons. A woman was slightly injured when a pro-Yanukovych crowd threw bottles and tried to overturn a vehicle, it said.
Throughout the country, Yushchenko's backers have exhibited videos of the massive opposition protests that swept the capital, Kiev, for two weeks after Yanukovych was declared the winner of the Nov. 21 presidential runoff.
Yushchenko won a Supreme Court ruling that threw out the runoff results because of fraud.
Yanukovych allies in the Donetsk region threatened to hold a referendum on autonomy as a hedge against a victory for Yushchenko, who is more popular in Ukrainian-speaking western and central Ukraine. They later canceled the referendum plans.