Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee left at least 22 people dead.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid, trying to protest themselves with shields. Protesters were seen leading apparently captured policemen around the sprawling protest camp in central Kyiv, or carrying bodies away on sheets of plastic or planks of wood.
An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kyiv. Video footage showed that at least one sniper wearing the uniform of Ukraine's riot police.
President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country— mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine favour strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
At least 50 people have died this week in the clashes in Kyiv, a sharp reversal in the three-month, mostly peaceful political crisis. Now neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
An Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies Thursday laid out on the edge of the protest camp. Protest medic Andriy Huk later told the AP that 32 activists have been killed. In addition, one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.
Russia's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase "brown revolution," an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933.
On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will "try to do our best" to fulfil its financial obligations to Ukraine, but indicated Moscow would hold back on further installments of its bailout money until the crisis is resolved.
"We need that the partners are in good shape and that the Ukrainian government is legitimate and effective, that this government is not used like a rag for wiping off feet," he said.