Kiev Truce Dissolves Into Gunfire and Flames as European Union Approves Sanctions

By
Protesters catch fire as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on February 20, 2014 in Kiev. Ukraine's embattled leader announced a "truce" with the opposition as he prepared to get grilled by visiting EU diplomats over clashes that killed 26 and left the government facing diplomatic isolation. The shocking scale of the violence three months into the crisis brought expressions of grave concern from the West and condemnation of an "attempted coup" by the Kremlin. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: BULENT KILIC/2014 AFP

A brief and delicate truce declared Wednesday night in Kiev faltered hours later as protesters, believing it to be a ruse, rushed police, who opened fire on them at the beginning of what turned out to be the deadliest day of fighting yet in the Ukrainian capital. Meanwhile, the Council of the European Union voted to impose targeted sanctions on the Ukraine as Thursday's violence settled into an uneasy calm by nighttime. Earlier in the day, protesters moved into new positions and rebuilt their barricades, hurling Molotov cocktails at police and taking officers captive amid automatic rifle and sniper fire. Protest medics told CNN that more than 100 had died, while the Associated Press reported 70 dead and 500 injured on Thursday.

The new round of fighting started just after dawn, the New York Times reports, when "young men in ski masks" moved through an opening in a barricade in Independence Square, the protest's epicenter. They "ran across a hundred yards of smoldering debris and surged toward riot police officers who were firing at them with shotguns." The new push lasted until about 10 a.m., by which time protesters had retaken the entire square.

"They are just delaying to make time to bring in more troops," one protester told the Times. "They didn’t have the forces to storm us last night. So we are expanding our barricades to where they were before. We are restoring what we had." The live news feed reported protesters elsewhere in Ukraine were trying to block trainloads of soldiers headed for Kiev.

President Viktor Yanukovych's office, meanwhile, accused protesters of acting in bad faith during the truce. "The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters," CNN reported it said in a statement. Protesters, who fired back at police with their own guns, said police were shooting to kill, aiming for their hearts and heads. One told the Times, "if they didn’t use guns, the idea never would have come to us."

During the fighting Thursday, protesters took police officers hostage, the AP reports. "Protesters were also seen leading policemen with hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev - Ukraine's Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. They are being held in Kiev's occupied city hall, an opposition lawmaker said."

Outside of Kiev, the Times notes reports from the west of the country, "a longstanding bastion of antigovernment sentiment," where more protesters had stormed police and state security service facilities, setting them on fire.

The clash that started when Yanukovych refused to sign a trade deal with the European Union in December is coming to symbolize a conflict between Russia, which supports Ukraine's government, and the EU and United States, which support the opposition.

After its emergency session in Brussels, the Council of the European Union announced it would be introducing sanctions "as a matter of urgency," including an asset freeze and visa ban on those responsible for human rights violations, as well as a suspension of export licenses for "equipment which might be used for internal repression."

The White House on Thursday issued a statement saying it was "outraged" at the Ukranian government's use of automatic weapons on its 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 statement said. It promised to "work with our European allies to hold those responsible for violence accountable," but stopped short of any specific threat.

The images from Thursday's violence are disturbing and graphic, but help convey what the AP described as "the almost-medieval melee" between protesters and police in Kiev.

KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 20: An anti-government protester aims a gun in the direction of suspected sniper fire near the Hotel Ukraine on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After several weeks of calm, violence has again flared between anti-government protesters and police, with dozens killed. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Protesters fired on suspected government snipers. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/2014 Getty Images
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 20: An anti-government protester takes cover from suspected sniper fire near the Hotel Ukraine on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After several weeks of calm, violence has again flared between anti-government protesters and police, with dozens killed. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
They took cover from sniper fire that killed many on Thursday. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/2014 Getty Images
GRAPHIC CONTENT 
Dead bodies lay on the ground during clashes with riot police at Independence square in central Kiev on February 20, 2014. At least 25 protesters were killed on February 20 in fresh clashes between thousands of demonstrators and heavily-armed riot police in the heart of Kiev, AFP correspondents at the scene said. The bodies of eight demonstrators were lying outside Kiev's main post office on Independence Square, an AFP reporter said. The bodies of 17 other demonstrators with apparent gunshot wounds were also seen in the vicinity of two hotels on opposite sides of the protest encampment. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER CHEKMENEV        (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER CHEKMENEV/AFP/Getty Images)
The dead lined the sidewalk in the protest's most violent day yet. Photo: AFP/2014 AFP
Riot police face anti-government protesters during clashes central Kiev on February 20, 2014. Ukraine's brittle truce shattered on February 20 in fierce clashes between baton-wielding protesters and riot police that claimed at least 27 lives just as EU envoys were holding crisis talks with the embattled president. Bodies of anti-government demonstrators lay amid smouldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones forced gun-toting police from Kiev's iconic Independence Square -- the epicentre of the ex-Soviet country's three-month-old crisis.    AFP PHOTO/ SERGEY GAPON        (Photo credit should read SERGEY GAPON/AFP/Getty Images)
Riot police squared off with protesters. Photo: AFP/2014 AFP
An anti-government protester shows empty bullet casings used by riot police against demonstrators in central Kiev on February 20, 2014. At least 25 protesters were killed on February 20 in fresh clashes between thousands of demonstrators and heavily-armed riot police in the heart of Kiev, AFP correspondents at the scene said. The bodies of eight demonstrators were lying outside Kiev's main post office on Independence Square, an AFP reporter said. The bodies of 17 other demonstrators with apparent gunshot wounds were also seen in the vicinity of two hotels on opposite sides of the protest encampment. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters showed the bullet shells they said came from police. Photo: BULENT KILIC/2014 AFP
Anti-government protesters walk on a puddle of blood left by a wounded demonstrator during clashes with the police in the center of Kiev on February 20, 2014.  Armed protesters stormed police barricades in Kiev on Thursday in renewed violence that killed at least 26 people and shattered an hours-old truce as EU envoys held crisis talks with Ukraine's embattled president. Bodies of anti-government demonstrators lay amid smouldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones forced police from Kiev's iconic Independence Square -- the epicentre of the ex-Soviet country's three-month-old crisis. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY        (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Blood spattered the streets during the violence. Photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY/2014 AFP
Protesters hold petrol bombs during clashes with police in Kiev on February 20, 2014. Hundreds of armed protesters charged police barricades Thursday on Kiev's central Independence Square, despite a truce called just hours earlier by the country's embattled president. Protesters pushed the police back about 200 metres and were in control of most of the square they had occupied at the start of Ukraine's three-month-old political crisis.. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI        (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters used Molotov cocktails against police. Photo: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/2014 AFP
Protesters advance to new positions in Kiev on February 20, 2014. Top officials were evacuated on Thursday from Ukraine's main government building close to clashes in the heart of Kiev that AFP reporters said left at least 17 protesters dead with apparent gun shot wounds. "This morning, all cabinet employees were evacuated from the building. These were official orders," a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian government told AFP. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI        (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters built new barricades and shored up existing ones as they took new positions. Photo: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/2014 AFP

This post has been updated throughout.