Ukraine crisis: Bloodshed on Europe's doorstep as EU tries and fails to stop killing

Dozens killed, hundreds injured, scores of police officers taken hostage by protesters as EU agrees sanctions over ‘unacceptable’ violence, but Moscow urges regime to assert itself


Blood and black ash smeared the once-pristine floors of Kiev’s Hotel Ukraine. Dining tables, hastily shoved together, became makeshift hospital beds for the injured; the cold ground was a crude morgue. A priest knelt next to one man, offering what small comfort he could.

On the bloodiest day in modern Ukrainian history, the 12 lifeless, unnamed men who lay on the floor of the hotel lobby this morning, their bodies loosely covered with sheets, were just a few of the dozens killed in a conflict that has transformed the centre of Ukraine's capital into a brutal battleground.

The President of the Ukraine has reached a deal with opposition leaders overnight, after a collapsed truce saw violence escalate across Independence Square.

Standing yards away from the bodies, Olga Bogomolets, one of Ukraine's leading doctors, told The Independent that they had been hit by police sniper bullets in the head, heart, lungs and neck.

Police, she said, had prevented doctors from treating the injured immediately. "We may have been able to save the lives of some of them."

Dressed all in black, their faces hidden behind balaclavas, men in police uniform were seen firing shots into the crowds that flooded the streets around the protest camp at Independence Square, also known as the Maidan. From fortified positions on the ground and on the roofs of buildings, some appeared to take time to line up their targets. Others fired indiscriminately, taking shots at groups of men recoiling under metal shields. Teams of protesters and volunteer medics carried the injured away on planks of wood.

Amid the chaos on the streets, political leaders met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to try to stem the bloodshed. He insisted that police were not armed and "all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken."

Soon afterwards, the acting interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko, issued a statement saying: "Police have been given combat weapons, which will be used in accordance with the law." The Interior Ministry warned the residents of Kiev to stay indoors because of the "armed and aggressive mood of the people".

Ukrainian authorities said that more than 75 had been killed in the clashes this week.

Some of the anti-government protesters had come to the Maidan wielding clubs, axes and guns to face off against the country's feared elite police units known as the "Berkut". Radical protesters, including members of far-right groups, have been active in the violence.

But others – the students, the young professionals, the " babushkas" (grandmothers), who had begun their protests peacefully in November – are now gathering rocks to use as ammunition for the men at the towering barricades that defend the protest camp. As fighting continued on the square, a group of six elderly women worked under the cover of a bus stop to prepare Molotov cocktails.

Prayers are held for victims who have died during anti-government protesters,clashed with police in Independence square Prayers are held for victims who have died during anti-government protesters,clashed with police in Independence square (Getty Images)

"This is extremism," one of the women said, refusing to give her name. "Our president has driven us to this. No more cooking in the kitchen for us. Now we make these."

The violence that has brought the country's capital to its knees has been long in coming. Outside Ukraine, this is seen by many as a clash of East versus West, a power battle between Russian President Vladimir Putin's controlling Kremlin and an expanding EU, played out in a deeply divided post-Soviet nation. While parts of the country – mostly in its western cities – are in open revolt against Mr Yanukovych's government, many in the mostly Russian-speaking east favour strong ties with Russia.

Although the protests began after Mr Yanukovych spurned a historic trade and political deal with the EU in favour of a £9bn financial bailout from the Kremlin, for many Ukrainians this is a fight for basic freedoms.

Opposition leaders have called for the reinstatement of the country's 2004 constitution, to strip the president of sweeping powers, and they demand early elections, currently scheduled for 2015. On the streets, protesters demand the resignation of Mr Yanukovych, and elections to establish a new government, one that they hope will not unleash lethal force on its own people. Some say they want a just police force. Many say they are fighting for healthcare and education systems that do not operate on bribes.

Protesters shape a defence line in Kiev, Ukraine Protesters shape a defence line in Kiev, Ukraine (EPA)

There were some signs that Mr Yanukovych's grip on power may be slipping. Volodymyr Makeyenko, the chief of Kiev's city administration and a former Yanukovych loyalist, said that he was leaving the ruling Party of Regions. "We must be guided only by the interests of the people. This is our only chance to save people's lives," he said. Serhiy Tyhipko, another influential party member, said both Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders had "completely lost control of the situation".

After a security scare earlier in the morning, parliament convened in the afternoon, with some pro-government MPs showing new willing to work with the opposition to find a solution to the crisis.

A few hundred yards from the Hotel Ukraine, on the freezing ground, eight more bodies were laid out on Khreschatyk Street near the Maidan. Crowds gathered around them trying to identify the faces. One or two appeared to be no more than 20 years old.

One of the wounded was reported to be a volunteer medic named as Olesya Zhukovskaya, who had sent out a brief Twitter message after being shot in the neck. It simply said: "I'm dying". She was in a serious condition after being operated on.

Unconfirmed reports put the total number of dead on both sides at more than 100 this week.

The Interior Ministry claimed that 67 police officers had been captured by protesters, although this too could not be verified. Protesters were reportedly seen leading men in police uniform around the Maidan.

EU officials said they would stay in Kiev for " a night of difficult negotiations" with Mr Yanukovych. The Kremlin, which has been applying behind-the-scenes pressure on Mr Yanukovych to crush the protests, said Mr Putin was sending the country's human rights chief Vladimir Lukin, a former ambassador to Washington, to Ukraine to act as a mediator between Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

Read more: As Kiev burns, the West's politicians haggle over sanctions
Comment: violence will soon acquire unstoppable momentum
Editorial: Dark days in Kiev

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters were rebuilding the fortified barricades that surround that Maidan, in preparation for further violence.

Watch Ukrainian politicians scuffle earlier today - as violence continues in Kiev

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Service Manager - Birmingham

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Circles South East Youth Service: Youth Services Volunteer

this is an unpaid voluntary position: Circles South East Youth Service: LOOKIN...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £30,000+

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading privately owned sp...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn