Ukraine’s two-month old anti-government protests have spread further across the country despite offers of concessions from President Viktor Yanukovych.
Thousands of demonstrators attempted to take over the regional government office in Dnipropetrovsk on Sunday, a major industrial hub in eastern Ukraine home to more than one million people and birthplace of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Thousands more tried to seize the local government headquarters in the south-eastern city of Zaporizhia, local media reported. Further protests took place in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Lutsk and Sumy over the weekend, raising fears that the previously peaceful movement is morphing into a national uprising.
In Kiev on Sunday, hundreds of protesters chanted “heroes don’t die” as the coffin of one demonstrator shot dead in clashes with police was paraded through the city centre.
The opposition cancelled a mass rally to hold a memorial for 25 year-old Mikhail Zhiznevsky – one of at least three people to have died when protests in the capital turned violent last week.
“We just want to live in a free and peaceful country,” said one protester at the memorial, who gave his name as Vladimir. “This death shows we live under a dictatorship.”
Later, police clashed with protesters in central Kiev
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
Opposition leaders have so far dismissed surprise concessions, offered by Mr Yankuovych on Saturday in a bid to defuse the political crisis.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of Ukraine’s largest opposition bloc, was offered the role of Prime Minister and world champion boxer-turned-politician, Vitali Klitschko, who leads Udar, was offered the post of Deputy Prime Minister, in charge of humanitarian affairs.
Addressing protesters in Kiev's Maidan, or Independence Square, on Saturday night, opposition leaders said demonstrations would continue as they maintain demands for early elections and changes to the constitution to limit sweeping presidential powers.
"No deal... we're finishing what we started. The people decide our leaders, not you," Mr Yatsenyuk later tweeted, in a message to Mr Yanukovych.
Demonstrations began in Kiev in November after Mr Yanukovich spurned a political and trade agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. The protests turned violent over a week ago, after the government introduced tough new anti-protest laws restricting freedom of expression, movement and assembly, in an attempt to curb the demonstrations.
Early on Sunday morning, demonstrators in the capital Kiev stormed the Ukrainian House convention centre, throwing fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police who had been stationed inside to monitor the mass protests that have engulfed the city centre. Protesters now occupy six buildings in the city, including the city hall and ministry of agriculture.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to fly to Brussels tomorrow for talks with EU leaders, where the unrest in Ukraine will almost certainly be discussed. Russia – which regards Ukraine as being firmly within its sphere of influence - has previously warned the EU to stop interfering in Kiev’s affairs.
Russia and the EU have "a number of differences which need to be discussed and clarified" at the summit, European Council leader Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement.
Government insiders in Kiev and Moscow say Mr Yanukovych is under considerable pressure from Mr Putin to crush the demonstrations, which it sees as a threat to its hold over former Soviet states.
“For the Kremlin, Ukraine is Russia,” James Sherr, associate fellow at Chatham House and author of ‘Hard Diplomacy and Soft Coercion: Russia’s Influence Abroad’, told The Independent. “It believes the protests are being orchestrated by the West. If Ukraine were to go its own way, Russia would be amputated.”
The Kremlin rewarded Ukraine’s pivot away from the EU with a $15bn (£9bn) bailout to rebalance its dire finances, but Mr Sherr says it could decide to withhold some of this much-needed aid if Mr Yanukovych fails to restore calm.
Radical elements, such as the far-right group Right Sector, have been blamed for stoking clashes with police. Yet at the huge protest barricades at Hrushevs’koho St over the weekend, several previously peaceful protesters told The Independent they had decided to arm themselves with sticks for protection after instances of police brutality, and in response to the passing of the tough anti-protest laws.
For a few hours on Sunday afternoon, relative calm descended on Kiev for the memorial.
Yula, a 28-year-old social anthropologist who has been coming to the protests since November, believes Mr Yanukovych is “nothing more than a gangster”. She said she protests to continue what she and thousands of others started during the 2004 Orange Revolution.
“I have come for more than politics. This is more than an objection to violence, more than a memorial for the deaths of three people,” she said. “Our system is cracked and it has to change. People are fed up with the dysfunction and corruption that affects more than government – our medical services, our justice system, our education. It has to stop.”