Protesters worked frantically Thursday afternoon to rebuild barricades on Kiev's smoldering Independence Square, after the morning's clashes with Ukrainian riot police left dozens dead, amid the first confirmed report of live ammunition being used by both sides.
As ambulance sirens wailed across the city center, protesters heeded the call of the movement's leaders to rebuild and fortify the barricades around Independence Square. They regained control of the square, or the Maidan, at great cost on Thursday morning.
The morning saw a pivotal shift in the three-month-long conflict, as protesters made efforts to take back some of the territory lost on Tuesday and were met with gunfire from riot police. At least 22 people were killed, including police officers, while medical volunteers in the city center estimated Thursday’s deaths at more than 60. Health ministry officials said the death toll since Tuesday now stood at 67 with more than 560 wounded, including police officers, protesters, journalists, and medical volunteers.
Medical volunteers told local media that many of those killed died from single-bullet wounds, indicating that snipers might be on the scene. Several witnesses on the scene and media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian service, posted videos showing government forces shooting firearms in the direction of protesters.
Interfax reports that in response to the violence, the Rada, Ukraine's parliament, adopted a resolution condemning the use of firearms by government troops and canceling further implementation of the "counter-terrorist initiative" that had been rolled out by the Interior Ministry.
Across the Maidan, near a McDonald’s that had once been a popular meeting spot for young and urban Ukrainians, makeshift hospitals took over fast food kiosks. At least six bodies of dead protesters, shot in the morning’s firefight, lay on the sidewalk in front of the medical points. And the entrance to the Ukraina Hotel, a towering Soviet-era hotel on the Maidan, was turned into a makeshift hospital for wounded demonstrators.
The threat of sniper fire continued throughout the day, as rumors swirled about the shooters' exact location. Around noon, a Monitor correspondent saw a young medical volunteer wearing a white T-shirt with large red cross on it, who appeared to have been hit in the neck by gunfire. She managed to walk to an ambulance waiting nearby with the assistance of three protesters.
She was later identified as Olesya Zhukovska by friends who saw her post on the Russian social media site, VKontakte, on which she wrote, “I’m dying,” though follow-up reports indicated that she may be in a hospital in Kiev.
Both sides traded blame for the morning's violence. Earlier today, the Interior Ministry had released a statement accusing the protesters of breaking the truce. The ministry also said that 67 police officers were being held hostage by the protesters after being captured during the morning's fighting.
But Oleksandr Lutsyk, a retired miner from Donetsk working in one of Maidan’s “self-defense” teams, said the protesters had been "lured in" when hundreds of riot police retreated from the square's southern part. When protesters advanced, the riot police fired on them, he said.
“It was a dirty, mean trick by [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych,” Mr. Lutsyk said.
The violence came at a political cost for Mr. Yanukovych, who saw several top-level officials defect from his ruling Party of Regions. They included several Rada deputies as well as Kiev mayor Volodymyr Makeyenko, appointed in January by Yanukovych himself. Mr. Makeyenko said that he planned to do whatever he could to “stop the bloodshed” in the capital.
In several other regions across the western part of Ukraine, where the protest movements have their support base, antigovernment protesters seized regional administrations, state security offices, and police administrations. The Interior Ministry had said in a statement that protesters had removed guns and ammunition from the armories of some of the regional building and were bringing them to arm protesters on Maidan.
Whether or not fighting is renewed in Kiev may depend on geopolitical influences outside the Maidan. A trio of foreign ministers from France, Germany, and Poland were in Kiev today trying to facilitate a peaceful settlement to the crisis. They first met with Yanukovych for several hours of talks, followed by a meeting with opposition leaders to discuss a proposal devised during the discussion with the president.
But the European Union and the United States both announced that they were implementing sanctions against Ukrainian government officials seen as at least partially responsible for the violence racking the country.
And Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that the Ukrainian protesters were "wip[ing] their feet on the authorities like a doormat." He urged Ukraine to “concentrate on the objective of protecting the people, protecting the law enforcers who protect the state interests and the people themselves."