At least 20 dead after Ukrainian violence reemerges
After weeks of relative calm, trucks and tents burned, Molotov cocktails smashed against police shields and banners illuminated by the flames whipped in the strong breeze. At least 20 people were reported killed in the latest flare-up of protests that began last fall after President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade deal with Europe and turned to Russia for financial help.
Police had launched no final assault on the square by late in the evening. But whether police clear the square, Ukraine is heading for an even deeper divide. The hostility that the opposition feels toward Yanukovych is intense and widespread, especially in the western part of the country.
Having turned to Russia for much-needed financial help, Yanukovych may finally have burned his bridges to the West with Tuesday's developments, leaving him in danger of being a weakened and unpopular supplicant to Moscow.
The leaders of the protest denounced Yanukovych as the assault on the square, also known as the Maidan, began about 8 p.m. local time. They said he had never intended to reach a deal and had used the weeks of talks to prepare a huge police attack.
Yanukovych's spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, told Radio Liberty's Ukrainian service that there will be no further negotiations until the violence stops.
"Negotiations will only take place when the violent methods stop, when the opposition gets its armed people off the street, and when calm comes back to the country," she said. "Then it will be necessary to sit at the negotiating table."
Lesya Orobets, an opposition member of parliament, said the protesters had fallen into a trap laid for them by Yanukovych. She said he had knowingly provoked the hard-line members of a right-wing group called Pravy Sektor, who have formed the most aggressive element of the opposition and who led the fighting when it erupted.
"This massacre has been carefully planned in advance and is intended to eventually destroy any hint of democracy in Ukraine," she wrote on Facebook.
The protests began Nov. 21 when Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union, eventually turning to Russia for $15 billion in support. He can now be assured of European hostility.
The Obama administration is "appalled" by Tuesday's violent crackdown, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Washington announced no specific new action and did not immediately lay blame for violence that left at least 20 people dead, but the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, threatened both sides with sanctions.
"We believe Ukraine's crisis can still be solved via dialogue, but those on both sides who fuel violence will open themselves to sanctions," Pyatt said on Twitter in both English and Russian.
Carney urged Yanukovych to resume a political discussion with opposition leaders. "We continue to condemn street violence and excessive use of force by either side. Force will not resolve the crisis," Carney said.
In Russia, the head of the foreign relations committee of the parliament, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted that Western pressure on Ukraine had "opened the way for radicals."
The Interior Ministry brought water cannons and armored personnel carriers to the edges of the Maidan. The subway was shut down, and authorities said they were closing off road access to Kiev. In months past, caravans of vehicles, especially from western Ukrainian cities, have often flocked to the capital at times of perceived threats. The country's leading independent television company, Channel 5, went off the air during the evening in much of Ukraine, according to reports.
Inside their own lines, demonstrators sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
"We will not fall for their provocation, but we won't retreat even one step from here, from this Maidan, and we don't have anywhere to retreat to," an opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, told the crowd.
"We remain here; we are defending our Maidan, we are defending our Ukraine, and we are defending our future," Yatsenyuk said.
The Interior Ministry said that at least 13 civilians and seven police officers were killed. There were widely circulated reports of additional deaths.
Early in the evening, Interior troops and hired civilians - popularly known as titushki - could be seen on web video streams moving down Hrushevsky Street, where violent clashes occurred in January. They stormed Ukraine House, an exhibition center on nearby European Square that had been taken by protesters in January.
Then they turned and moved toward the Maidan.
The fighting had begun in the streets around the parliament, which once had been in the firm control of the police.
Snipers were reported on rooftops. At one point they were confronted on a roof by protesters carrying steel rods, according to witnesses. The snipers withdrew.
Opposition forces stormed the headquarters of the ruling Party of Regions, though it was later retaken by government supporters who said they found the body of an office worker inside.
Several Interior troops were captured by demonstrators, according to reports, and taken to the Maidan as prisoners.