Vitali Klitschko caught up in clashes as tens of thousands defy Ukraine protest ban

Heavyweight boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko caught up in demonstrations in capital Kiev

Demonstrators armed with flares and fire extinguishers battled with riot police on the streets of Kiev on Sunday night as anger mounted among the tens of thousands of Ukrainians rallying against their government in defiance of new anti-protest laws.

Vitali Klitschko, the boxer-turned-opposition leader, had urged supporters in Independence Square to remain calm and refrain from provoking the police. But after a largely peaceful day of speeches and chanting in the bitter January cold, a small group of protesters attacked police with flares, fireworks, sticks and fire extinguishes as they tried to breach the parliament building.

Protesters rammed and smashed the windows on buses forming a barrier to the parliament, while police protected themselves with their shields as plumes of smoke and fireworks shot into the air. As night fell the splinter  group appeared to be pulling back and rejoining some  of the estimated 100,000  people who had packed into central Kiev.

A legal push by President Viktor Yanukovych to cripple the protest movement brought many people back out on the streets after a Christmas and New Year lull, and spurred some of the most violent scenes seen so far in the two months of rallies against the government.

“Yanukovich and his henchmen want to steal our country,” Mr Klitschko, who is expected to challenge the incumbent in Presidential elections next year, told the crowds before the outbreak of violence. “Ukraine is united as never before in its struggle against those in power today, in its determination not to allow a dictatorship.”

Many of the protesters were wearing pots and pans or construction helmets on their heads, a symbol of defiance against the new anti-protest laws, which were rushed through parliament on Thursday. They include a ban on wearing hard hats or masks at rallies, fines and prison sentences for setting up unauthorised tents or stages, and curbs on the dissemination of “extremist information” about the nation’s leaders.

The new laws are aimed at extinguishing a protest movement which began on 21 November after President Yanukovych abruptly backed out of signing an agreement promising closer trade and political ties with the European Union. His decision to instead turn to Russia for financial assistance outraged many people who had pinned their hopes for a more prosperous future on closer ties with the EU, rather than with their former Soviet rulers.

The battle for Ukraine’s soul has also soured relations between the EU and Russia, with European politicians accusing Moscow of using blackmail and bribery to keep Kiev within their sphere of influence. This week the EU announced that they were cancelling a dinner with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during EU-Russia summit on  28 January to show it was not “business as usual”.

Current events in Ukraine are expected to be discussed on Monday at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. The EU and US have already expressed concern about the new laws. The US State Department issued a communiqué calling them “undemocratic”.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was sprayed with a fire extinguisher after he tried to calm protesters Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was sprayed with a fire extinguisher after he tried to calm protesters

The EU envoy to Ukraine, Jan Tombinsky, said the way the law was rushed through parliament with MPs voting with a show of hands rather the usual electronic voting system, which allows the opposition to block legislation, suggested that the “credibility of democratic institutions and of the legal system is at stake”.

While Sunday represented the largest numbers on the streets so far this year, Mr Yanukovych does have the backing of many Ukrainians, particularly in the East of the country. It is unclear if the protesters will be able to bring about any significant changes before the February 2015  elections.

Opposition leaders have announced a plan to start a petition and collect signatures expressing a lack of confidence in the government, and want to set up a people’s assembly with a new constitution.  Mr Yanukovych does however retain a majority in parliament and last month survived a vote of no confidence tabled by  the opposition.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas