Over the past week shocking pictures have emerged from the Ukraine's capital, Kiev.
Plumes of black smoke billow over the city, fires rage in the scorched skeletons of cars, and hundreds have been wounded, with two confirmed dead. Hordes of riot police are on the streets and the EU's justice chief has said the country is sliding towards civil war. Unless you've been following the events from the beginning it's difficult to glean why tensions are now strained to breaking point. Here's the basics.
Why are people protesting?
It's been going on for two months. In November President Viktor Yanukovych decided to pull out of a treaty with EU, an agreement many felt would have paved the way for the Ukraine to join the union. It looked like he was going to sign the agreement before performing a U-turn, which has made Ukrainian disappointment all the sharper. However the government would rather stay friendly with Putin in return for favourable treatment. The protesters think it would benefit ordinary people far more to be aligned with the EU and consider Yanukovych a man who only represents the interests of the richest.
If this was in November, why is it making headlines now?
Most recently tensions spilled over in violence after Yanukovych introduced new anti-protest laws designed to end the demonstrations. The laws banned protests from taking place without the government’s permission and threatened those who disobeyed with up to ten years in prison. The legislation also introduced hefty fines for wearing masks or helmets to demonstrations, as well as driving bans for convoys of more than five cars. Internet media outlets have to register with authorities and no amplifiers are allowed in public places. Many people feel the government is trying to repress the truth and remove their rights. This protest is now more than a pro-EU movement, it is fuelled by anti-government feeling, with many activists seeing their cause as a fight against corruption. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister and Interior Minister, and also the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.
What does Vitali Klitschko have to do with it?
The former heavyweight boxing champion is one of three opposition leaders and is strongly in favour of the EU. The other two leaders are Oleh Tyahnybok, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party. Writing in The Independent, Chatham House fellow James Sherr thinks Klitschko is a real contender to be the next leader and offer a political solution to the crisis. However he also thinks things are going to get worse before they get better.
Where are all the flames coming from?
A line of burning tyres marks the barricade between protesters and police. Among the demonstrators are radical nationalists, some of whom have been pictured hurling Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs at riot police. Two activists have been killed by gunshot wounds, but officers deny responsibility. A third activist has been found dead in a forest outside Kiev, reportedly showing signs of torture. A 17-year-old student told the BBC he was stripped naked by police, beaten, slashed with knives and cut across his anus. He was eventually taken to hospital. Earlier this week ministry apologised after video footage emerged showing police humiliating a protester in custody, making him walk around naked in the snow. Allegations of torture are going to be raised by Ukrainian MP Irena Seh, the BBC reports.
Who are the Berkut?
The Berkut are a special unit of officers attached to the Interior Ministry and their purpose is to control large crowds. They are known for their brutality and at least one Ukrainian private TV station, ICTV, has openly criticised riot police for their actions toward protesters. Amnesty has called for a investigation into allegations of abusive use of force by officers from the Berkut riot police force during the break up of a riot in November.
What is ‘the Maidan’?
The Square of Independence or Maidan Nezalezhnosti is the centre of the protests. It has long been the focus of political protests, of which the latest has been dubbed the ‘Euromaidan’. The automaidan is where supporters stop their cars in a circle, forming a barricade. Maidan means square.
There are fears that the riots could spread beyond Kiev, with protesters reportedly besieging or stormed government buildings in at least four cities in western Ukraine on Friday. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned Mr Yanukovych in a phone call on Thursday that the European Union may take action if he doesn’t end his crackdown on protesters, and ambassadors have discussed the possibility of sanctions. President Yanukovych has called an emergency session of parliament next week to discuss the protests.
In pictures: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine
In pictures: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine
Anti-government protesters clash with police on Hrushevskoho Street in Ukraine's capital city on Friday night
Anti-government protesters attempt to take over the Ukrainian House on Sunday night
Protesters and police officers clash during the night of Friday to Saturday. After two months of primarily peaceful anti-government protests in the city center, new laws meant to end the protest movement have sparked violent clashes in recent days
Anti-government protesters clash with policemen in Kiev on Friday night as the protests continue in Ukraine
Anti-government protesters gather around a fire to get warm at a road block in Kiev on 26 January
An anti-government protester prepares to throw a Molotov cocktail during the clashes between protesters and policemen on 24 January
Anti-government protesters hurl Molotov cocktails and burn tires during clashes with police on Hrushevskoho Street near Dynamo stadium on January 24
Protesters confront police in central Kiev on Friday night
Anti-government protesters launches a firework towards police near the Dynamo Stadium in Kiev
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
A protester waves a Ukrainian flag during clashes with police in central Kiev
A protester throws a tire onto a fire in Kiev
Opposition leader and former WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko addresses protesters near the burning barricades between police and protesters in central Kiev
A protester breaks up a mannequin on the roof of the burned truck during clashes with police in central Kiev
A protester throws tires onto a fire during a clash with police in central Kiev
Thick black smoke from burning tires engulfed parts of downtown Kiev as an ultimatum issued by the opposition to the president to call early election or face street rage was set to expire with no sign of a compromise
Protesters use a large slingshot to hurl a Molotov cocktail at police in central Kiev
Burning members of the Ukrainian riot police due to the gasoline bombs hurled by anti-government protestors during the clashes in central Kiev
A demonstrator holds an incendiary device as protesters clash with police in the center of Kiev
Protesters burn tires as they clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Protesters clash with police in central Kiev. Police in Ukraine's capital tore down protester barricades and chased demonstrators away from the site of violent clashes, hours after two protesters died after being shot
A riot police officer escorts a man as a woman with a cross reacts nearby during clashes between police and pro-European protesters in Kiev
Riot policemen arrest a protestor during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
An injured man is escorted during clashes between police and pro-European protesters in Kiev
Medical workers help an injured man during anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Medical personnel transport a man who was injured during clashes with riot police in Kiev
A man reacts after he was injured during a rally held by pro-European protesters in Kiev
An Orthodox priest tries to stop clash protesters the police in the center of Kiev
Ukrainian priests stand between protesters and riot police officers during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
An elderly woman walks from police officers as they block a street during unrest in central Kiev
An Ukrainian opposition activist speak to riot-forces standing guard in front of the parliament in Kiev
A protester smokes at the barricade in front of armour-clad security forces blocking access to the Verkhovna Rada parliament in Kiev
Pro-European protester take cover during clashes with riot police in Kiev. Two demonstrators were reported killed in new anti-government unrest in the Ukrainian capital, inflaming protesters who confronted police shouting 'Murderers' and 'Glory to Ukraine!'
Pro-European protesters launch a pyrotechnic pistol towards riot police during clashes in Kiev
A police officer throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with protesters in central Kiev
A pro-European protester lies on the ground during clashes with riot police in Kiev
Demonstrators beat on a burnt vehicle as pro-European integration protesters hold a rally in Kiev
People stand on a barricade during a clashing break of the opposition and the police in Kiev
Protesters tip over a burnt out police bus during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
A pro-European protester fires a pneumatic gun during clashes with Ukrainian riot police in Kiev
Protesters wearing headbands reading 'Help' shout slogans during an action entitled 'Impose sanctions - stop the violence' in front of the European Union delegation in Ukraine in Kiev. Participants of the rally urged the European Union to immediately impose personal sanctions for those responsible for the use of force against peaceful protesters and journalists, as well as involved in the adoption of unconstitutional laws in Ukraine that violate fundamental human rights
A pro-European integration protester catches fire during clashes with police in Kiev
A pro-European integration protester sits in a burnt police bus after a rally near government administration buildings in Kiev
A pro-European integration protester uses a slingshot during clashes with police in Kiev
A bare chested man waves a Ukrainian flag during clashes between the opposition and police in the centre of Kiev. Opposition protesters were today locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded over 200 people, as President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis
A protester sprays fire in the direction of the riot police during clashes in the centre of Kiev. EU foreign ministers deplored violent protests in Kiev, saying the government was at fault for passing a package of repressive laws in an effort to tame pro-EU demonstrations
Pro-European integration protesters carry Molotov cocktails during clashes with police in Kiev. Protesters clashed with riot police in the Ukrainian capital after tough anti-protest legislation, which the political opposition says paves the way for a police state and was rushed through parliament
A protester prays as he holds an open Bible during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Protesters clad in improvised protective gear prepare for a clash with police in central Kiev
Pro-European protesters bang on a metal bin during a rally in Kiev
A clergyman opposes riot police in Kiev during a rally held by pro-European integration demonstrators. Protesters gathered in Independence Square as repressive new laws came into force
Pro-European Union activists sing the national anthem in central Kiev