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KIEV — The acrid smoke of field stoves wafts over green and brown military-style tents. Stern sentries in combat fatigues stand vigil at makeshift barricades of scrap metal, tires and bags of junk. A line of men, also in fatigues, marches in step against the backdrop of a burned-out building.
A month after deadly street fighting drove out Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president, Kiev’s central square still looks like a military encampment. Independence Square, known as the Maidan, has grand flower-and-candle memorials, guided tours and selfie-snapping tourists. But the continued patrols of paramilitary militias controverts any notion that normal life has returned to the capital.
“We can’t budge from this square, because if we do, in two days Putin’s tanks will be here,” said Alexander Kononko, 39, a wiry and prematurely wizened fighter whose red-and-black insignia identify him as a member of a militia that become a flashpoint in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
They’re called Right Sector, and their name has become synonymous with the ultranationalist presence in Ukraine’s new government that Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited as justification for annexing Crimea and tipping off a Cold War-style confrontation with Europe and the United States.