Hours after President Viktor Yanukovych and several opposition leaders reportedly agreed to a truce in Kiev's Independence Square, clashes resumed between demonstrators and police, who only dug themselves in further in preparation for a longer fight.
- Ukraine's Parliament voted late on Thursday to withdraw security forces from Independence Square. The measure is intended to avoid further bloodshed after Kiev's worst day of protests yet, and a rebuke to how Yanukovych has handled the protests until now. While this development is certainly a promising one, some observers have cautioned that it was around this time last night the president's office announced that he'd brokered a "truce" with opposition leaders.
- The AFP reports that President Viktor Yanukovych has indicated he's willing to hold elections later this year. That news comes via the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
- According to the Wall Street Journal, the EU has agreed to sanctions against Ukraine, including asset freezes and some visa bans.
- The White House released a strong statement condemning the violence against Ukrainian protesters on Thursday:
We are outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people. We urge President Yanukovych to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kyiv and to respect the right of peaceful protest, and we urge protesters to express themselves peacefully. We urge the Ukrainian military not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means. The use of force will not resolve the crisis -- clear steps must be taken to stop the violence and initiate meaningful dialogue that reduces tension and addresses the grievances of the Ukrainian people. The United States will work with our European allies to hold those responsible for violence accountable and to help the Ukrainian people get a unified and independent Ukraine back on the path to a better future.
- According to Ukraine's Interior Ministry, protesters have disarmed and captured up to 67 policemen during today's conflict. Footage appearing to show some disarmed police officers walking with protesters was previously distributed in the Russian media. Here's another photo, showing the officers being led away in a line.
- Death toll: The toll from today's deadly clashes is still variable depending on who you read. The latest numbers from NBC News are at least 64 dead, and over 550 injured.
- Live ammunition: after days of debate over whether police (and protesters) were firing live rounds or not, the Ukrainian government acknowledged on Thursday that it had distributed combat weapons to police to use against the protesters "in accordance with the law."
Original Post :
It's unclear what broke last night's agreement between Yanokovych and opposition leaders, although it didn't seem as though the truce was every really in force on the ground. Yanukovych, of course, blamed the resurgence of violence on the protesters, saying "the opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters." Reporters on the scene said the conflict reignited when gunfire broke out at Maidan, Kiev's protest hub, today. The scene sounds devastating, with BBC reporters saying they've seen "five bodies in the reception area of the Hotel Ukraine," and adding that "protestors are throwing petrol bombs while police use water cannon." Richard Engel of NBC News said on MSNBC's air this morning that he personally witnessed five protesters being killed by gunfire.
This video, apparently shot today, shows protesters being mowed down by gunfire. (Warning: The images are disturbing.)
CNN correspondents describes mayhem:
When the bullets flew, several demonstrators fell to the ground. Protesters grabbed the wounded by their clothes or limbs, and carried many of them to a hotel lobby at one end of the square that had been converted into a triage center. Bodies, covered in bloodied sheets, lay on the floor. Orthodox priests prayed over them. As police hastened their withdrawal, demonstrators rushed to fortify their barricades, which they then reignited.
And Buzzfeed's Max Seddon reports from the scene:
Future Molotov cocktails pic.twitter.com/tQkz0qKHjO— max seddon (@maxseddon) February 20, 2014
Fresh gunshots on Maidan. Sounds like shotgun fire. Church bells ringing nonstop— max seddon (@maxseddon) February 20, 2014
The protests, simmering for months, exploded into its most violent day on Tuesday. The period since has been one of the bloodiest in Ukraine's history. Initially, demonstrators gathered in anger against Yanukovych's decision to accept a $15 million bailout from Russia instead of signing a trade agreement with the EU. The protests ebbed but were rekindled by the passing of a law that essentially criminalized protests. Yanukovych has since repealed the law and offered other superficial concessions, but the situation now seems beyond his control.
We will continue to update this post as more news becomes available throughout the day — a day that is likely to bring more death and heartache for Ukrainians. For now, you can watch live footage streaming from Independence Square.