Published February 20, 2014
The European Union reportedly has agreed in an emergency meeting Thursday to impose sanctions against Ukraine after violence flared up again in Kiev, leaving at least 33 people dead.
In other developments:
• Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly is sending an envoy to Ukraine to try to mediate discussions with anti-government protesters – at the request of the country’s president. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the envoy announcement after Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych talked over the phone, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported, according to Reuters.
• The White House is urging Ukraine’s government to withdraw security forces from Kiev’s Independence Square – the flashpoint of the uprising – and resolve the crisis through political means. It described images of Ukrainian forces firing on its own people Thursday as an outrage.
• Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said on his Twitter page that he is heading to meet anti-government protesters to test a “proposed agreement” with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, according to Reuters. Sikorski and his French and German counterparts met with Yanukovych earlier in the day.
• Protesters have captured at least 67 policemen in Kiev, the country’s Interior Ministry said Thursday. Footage from Ukrainian TV shows protesters leading policemen around inside a sprawling camp.
• A truce between Yanukovych and the opposition fell apart Thursday, as fresh clashes between both sides have left at least 33 dead, bringing this week’s death toll in Kiev to 59. Dr. Oleh Musiy, the coordinator for the protesters' medical team, claims that Thursday’s death toll alone is at least 70, but there is no way to independently confirm his statement.
In Brussels, Belgium, the 28-nation EU agreed to impose sanctions on Ukraine Thursday, including visa bans, asset freezes and restrictions on the export of anti-riot equipment, according to ministers and officials who spoke to Reuters.
The U.S. – which reiterated Thursday that it would work with its European allies to resolve the crisis – is considering whether to join the EU sanctions. A freeze on assets and travel bans could hurt the oligarchs who back Yanukovych.
But a diplomat who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity before an official announcement said the list of names which officials will be targeted has yet to be established.
The diplomat also said ministers agreed the scope of the sanctions will be adjusted according to the developments in Ukraine. The restrictions are to be drafted into law in the coming days, Reuters reports.
Video footage on Ukrainian television Thursday showed shocking scenes of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.
One opposition lawmaker says police who were captured are being held in Kiev's city hall, which is being occupied by protesters.
The ongoing violence on the square Thursday indicates that more radical elements among the protesters may be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January and the clashes that started this week may have radicalized many more.
The protests started three months ago after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. After that move, Russia announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
But the Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine's future.
Earlier Thursday, an Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies Thursday laid out on the edge of the protest camp. Protest medic Andriy Huk later told the AP that 32 activists have been killed. In addition, one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.
Sky News correspondent David Bowden said snipers could be seen on rooftops aiming at protesters in the square below. Bowden reported that one bullet had gone through the window of his hotel room and "took a chunk" out of the ceiling.
"The police seem to have been caught off guard and they're reacting very aggressively and basically just shooting people," Bowden said.
Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharschenko said he signed an order Thursday to give police combat weapons to be used “in accordance with the law,” according to Reuters.
The ministry had claimed in a statement that 20 police officers had been injured by gunfire. The statement did not specify when the police were wounded, but it did say the gunfire appeared to be coming from the national music conservatory, which is on the edge of the square. Also Thursday, the parliament building was evacuated because of fears protesters were preparing to storm it, said parliament spokeswoman Irina Karnelyuk.
Amid the carnage, signs were emerging that Yanukovych is losing loyalists as the crisis roils. The chief of Kiev's city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday he was leaving Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
"We must be guided only by the interests of the people, this is our only chance to save people's lives," he said, adding he would continue to fulfill his duties as long as he had the people's trust.
Another influential member of the ruling party, Serhiy Tyhipko, said both Yanukovych and opposition leaders had "completely lost control of the situation."
Before the truce was announced the bad blood was running so high it has fueled fears the nation could be sliding toward a messy breakup. While most people in the country's western regions resent Yanukovych, he enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.
Opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko has warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger.
"Yanukovych, you will end like (Muammar) Qaddafi," Lyashko told thousands of angry protesters. "Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!"
Yanukovych has blamed the protesters for the violence. He called for a day of mourning Thursday for the dead, but the Interior Ministry said Kiev residents should limit their movements or stay home altogether because of the "armed and aggressive mood of the people."
The latest wave of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power -- a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to do so.
Russia's Foreign Ministry has described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase "brown revolution," an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933. The ministry said Russia would use "all our influence to restore peace and calm."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.