Ukrainian nationalist association Svoboda (Freedom) is holding a rally in the ex-Soviet state's capital Kiev to defend the Ukrainian language, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported Sunday.
"After Viktor Yanukovych was elected Ukraine's president, the threat to the Ukrainian language has multiplied," Andriy Mohnik, a deputy head of Svoboda, said while opening the several-dozen-strong rally.
Yanukovych , sworn in February 25 following the February 7 presidential election runoff which he narrowly won from then prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has a friendly attitude to Russia and the Russian language rather than his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko whose pro-Western policies, including a bid to take Ukraine into NATO, saw a rapid deterioration in bilateral ties.
The new Ukrainian leader, whose power base is in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern and southern industrial parts of the country, has pledged to take steps to assure the right of Ukrainians to speak Russian, something his predecessor had suppressed.
Yanukovych has vowed to restore the damaged ties with Russia and in particular consider extending the Russian navy base's stay in the country, as well as to set up a natural gas consortium to deter fresh disputes affecting transits to Europe.
Rally speakers said Sunday they would try to prevent the new president from canceling Yushchenko's decree to heroize onetine Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
Yanukovych said after Friday's talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow that the controversy over his predecessor naming Bandera a national hero would be settled before this year's Victory Day.
Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists briefly allied with Nazi Germany during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities accused Bandera, who fought both the Nazis and the Soviets in his quest for an independent Ukraine, of numerous acts of murder and terrorism. He was assassinated by the KGB in Munich, Germany, on October 15, 1959.