(WASHINGTON) -- American celebrities including George Clooney and Hayden Panettiere are sending their support to the protesting people of the Ukraine as protesters fill the streets in a challenge to the Russian-leaning government.
In demonstrations that have lasted weeks in Ukraine's capital of Kiev, protesters are demanding the country become more open to the West and the European Union after a deal that would have brought closer ties to the West was abruptly shelved.
Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich backed out of the trade deal with the European Union last month, a deal that many in the country had seen as a step forward for the country and away from Russian influence. Moscow, however, threatened the Ukraine government with economically crippling sanctions if they followed through on the deal.
Yanukovich said Monday he would meet with opposition leaders to talk about resolving the protests.
Russia is intent on keeping Ukraine under its control. Ukraine now serves as an essential ally of Russia, through which of Russia's oil and gas pipelines pump oil to Europe. Ukraine also offers Russia access to the Black Sea and acts as a buffer between the EU and Russia.
The protesters have occupied the central square in the capital city of Kiev, where Hayden Panettiere joined fiance Wladimir Klitschko, a champion Ukraine boxer, at the demonstrations last week. Her fiance, Klitschko, is the brother of an opposition leader Vitali Klitschko.
"The beauty of this country is breathtaking: the landscape, the beautiful churches. But nothing compares to the undeniably deep souls of the Ukrainian people," Panettiere said at a rally this week. "There is a movement happening here and we have a chance to make things right, to make things just. You have a right to a democracy."
"Your struggles and your fight is not falling on deaf ears. You are being heard. The world will hear you," she said.
George Clooney released a video message addressing the protesters. "When you look to the West, know that we are looking back at you with great admiration," he said. "We wish you a peaceful and safe mission. We wish you the government you want, and we wish you the strength to carry on. Good luck."
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