Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 33 people dead.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday 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.
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.
And the reason for the increased bloodshed? Both sides, apparently, are accusing each other of negotiating in bad faith and breaking the terms of their agreement, impelling anti-government protestors to attack Ukraine security forces as they retreated from the capital. NBC’s Richard Engel reports that the violence has indeed escalated.
In fact, a hotel lobby from where he was reporting from has been turned into a makeshift field hospital, where the wounded are being treated and where no less than three people have died:
Meanwhile, the president has already strongly denounced the violence:
“The U.S. condemns in strongest terms the violence,” the President said before meetings in Mexico. “We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible.” Obama urged the government to “show restraint,” and called on President Viktor Yanukovych not to use military force to deal with “issues that should be settled by civilians.” But he also said that protestors must “remain peaceful” and recognize that “violence is not the path.”
And, for its part, the U.S. government has slapped sanctions on a score of high-ranking Ukrainian officials:
“Today we moved to restrict visas to some 20 senior members of the Ukrainian government and other individuals we consider responsible for ordering human rights abuses related to political oppression in Ukraine,” the official said.
“These individuals represent the full chain of command we consider responsible for ordering the security forces to move against” the protesters, the official said, adding that the visa bans were easily reversible if the situation improved.
But only if the violence subsides. And right now that seems unlikely.