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Death Toll Rises In Ukraine Crisis As Clashes Shatter Truce
35 dead in central Kiev, including protesters shot in the back. posted onMax Seddon
KIEV, Ukraine — At least 35 people died in the bloodiest day of clashes here yet Thursday morning, as armed protesters shattered a truce agreed last night between Ukraine’s government and opposition by attacking police and reclaiming Kiev’s central square.
Protesters who had held out against police on Independence Square, known as the Maidan, launched an offensive at 7:30 a.m., shooting at police and throwing Molotov cocktails. Fighting then escalated dramatically over the next hour. Riot police returned fire and threw stun grenades before retreating.
Clashes spread from the square to Hrushevskogo Street, the main locus of violence Tuesday in which at least 26 died, and up Institutska Street towards a district housing many government buildings. By mid-morning, protesters had reclaimed the positions they surrendered when police descended on them on Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had to reschedule a meeting on the crisis with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland as the violence spread.
Protesters retook the square and occupied several buildings not burnt out in earlier fighting to make impromptu field hospitals. Reporters with the Kyiv Post, a local English-language newspaper, counted 15 dead at the Kozatsky Hotel on Maidan, seven at the central post office, ten at the Ukraina Hotel, and three on Khreschatyk Street.
One of the dead men BuzzFeed saw on Khreshchatyk had been shot in the back through body armor with armor-piercing bullets. Protesters took turns to pray in front of the bodies and put up a sign reading “Yanukovych, you’re a criminal.”
Protesters managed to capture at least 60 riot policemen, their faces battered and bloody.
Multiple activists and reporters on the ground reported sniper fire from vantage points up the hill east of the Maidan in Kiev’s government district. Police accused protesters of the gunfire and claimed 20 officers had been shot by snipers.
By noon, sporadic grenade explosions and shotgun shells could still be heard as smoke billowed around Maidan and church bells rang out unceasingly in central Kiev.
Yanukovych’s office released a statement saying that “opposition leaders’ statements about the need for a truce and a return to dialogue turned out to be just a maneuver to kill time and mobilize and arm fighters from the Maidan.”
“They attacked us,” the statement said. Yanukovych’s administration said it was taking “all measures to stop bloodshed and conflict.”
Ukrainian security forces declared an “anti-terrorism operation” before Wednesday evening’s ceasefire that allows the army to use force against civilians and “disappear” people for up to 72 hours. Yanukovych then fired the head of Ukraine’s armed forces and replaced him with the head of the navy.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, issued a joint statement with EU ambassador Jan Tombinski urging a return to the ceasefire.