The Tuesday violence was the deadliest in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the nation’s identity, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.
Kiev plunged into chaos when protesters attempted to push towards the parliament and president Viktor Yanukovych’s party headquarters. Around 20,000 protestors fought against police officers, armed with rocks, bats and fire bombs, and singing “Glory to Ukraine”.
Forces loyal to the Russian-backed leader broke through front-line barricades near the Dynamo Kiev soccer stadium and marched to the edge of occupied Independence Square. After hours of clashes, police had gained ground overnight in Independence Square, center of three months of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych, and were occupying about a third of the square at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, reports Reuters.
The square resembled a battle-zone with black smoke and flames belching from a trade union building, used as an anti-government headquarters.
Protesters had been preparing for an assault on their camp in independence square for over a month, and the street fighting skills they learnt during the out break of violence in January was on full display in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Volunteers ripped up vast swathes of pavement to provide cobble stones for the front line, while human chains maintained a steady supply of tires, wood and other fuel to the barricades, says The Telegraph.
“We will not go anywhere from here,” opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as tents and tires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.
Nine officers and at least 14 demonstrators died amid the carnage in Independence Square after a planned parliamentary debate to curb the sweeping powers enjoyed by pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych was delayed.
President Viktor Yanukovych said that opposition leaders “crossed a line when they called people to arms.”
“I again call on the leaders of the opposition … to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services,” the president said in a statement. “If they don’t want to leave (the square) — they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.”
In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden phoned Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych Tuesday and urged him to pull back forces and address the protesters’ “legitimate grievances.” A State Department spokesman said Secretary of State John Kerry shared Biden’s “grave concerns,” adding, “Ukraine’s deep divisions will not be healed by spilling more innocent blood.”
The State Department also issued a travel alert for U.S, citizens in Ukraine late Tuesday, saying, “The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly. Further violent clashes between police and protesters in (Kiev) and other cities are possible.”
Opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk said that they had quit talks with President Viktor Yanukovich without reaching any agreement on how to end the violence.
“The government must immediately withdraw troops and put an end to the bloody conflict, because people are dying. I told Yanukovich this,” Klitschko said after the late night talks. “How can we hold talks while blood is being shed?”
Yanukovych still remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong. But western Ukraine is keen to pursue closer ties to the 28-nation EU and move away from Russia’s orbit.