UPDATE (Thursday, Feb. 20, 11:05 a.m.): Dr. Oleh Musiy, the coordinator for the protesters’ medical team in Kiev, says at least 70 protesters have been killed in clashes with police Thursday, adding that the number killed could well go even higher.
There was no way to independently confirm his statement. An AP reporter earlier in the day saw at least 21 bodies in Kiev's central square.
UPDATE (Thursday, Feb. 20, 10 a.m.): Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police troops have been captured by protesters in Kiev.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed protesters apparently leading some of the captured policemen around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev.
One opposition lawmaker says the police are being held in Kiev’s city hall, which is being occupied by protesters.
UPDATE (Thursday, Feb. 20, 8 a.m.): Renewed clashes between riot police and protesters erupted in Kiev on Thursday, just hours after a truce was announced by President Viktor Yanukovych. At least 22 more people are dead. The Associated Press reports that government snipers are reportedly shooting at protesters and that dead protesters were laid out at the edge of the encampment.
OUR EARLIER REPORT: With the death toll from Tuesday’s clashes now reaching at least 25, protesters in the epicenter of Ukraine’s government protest movement are bracing for another round of anticipated military action. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce with the opposition, according to a statement issued on a government website late Wednesday, but protesters are skeptical and showing no signs of backing down.
Riot police have taken over a third of Independence Square (also know as the Maidan)—Kiev’s city center transformed into a tent city by protesters and their base for the past 12 weeks—but after a day of deadly clashes, protesters poured back into the square Wednesday morning, collecting piles of paving bricks and lighting new fires as dusk settled into the city.
Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a sociology professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy who has been closely following developments in the heart of the protests, spoke to me a few hours after he returned from walking the streets of the Maidan, and his tone was grim. Police units cleared the massive barricades and defensive structures during Tuesday’s offensive, but the people have returned. Wynnyckyj described a line of protesters facing a line of riot police with a “no man’s land” covered in ash and smoke in between.
As Wynnyckyj made his way through the people, he saw a man walking into the buffer zone to collect tires and wood, only to be shot by riot police. Several protesters pulled the man to safety and medics went to work while the shooter made obnoxious gestures to the crowd. This scene shook Wynnyckyj. “For the first time in my life, I saw someone getting shot. I was in a war zone today,” he said. “This is not law enforcement anymore. This is police using brute force.”
The city’s subway is shut down and the central part of Kiev has been declared a “no drive zone” that is blocked by police barricades. But this hasn’t stopped the continual flow of tens of thousands of people who are walking the streets to and from Independence Square to deliver food and supplies.
Wynnyckyj said he heard an announcement over the loudspeakers asking people to stop bringing meat—the central organizers now have enough. “The center of Kiev is a giant anthill,” he said. “People are doing things. This is their fight and everyone is mobilized.”
The prayer tent that stood in the center of the square and was a source of blankets, food, and spiritual comfort for protesters was burnt to the ground. So was the information technology tent right next to it—a source of high-speed internet and mission control for some of Ukraine’s top-notch computer programmers who were attempting to hack government websites. Riot police also destroyed the bus that housed the movement’s generators.
On Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama condemned the violence in Ukraine: “We have been watching very carefully and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters.” The European Union called a meeting of the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers to consider sanctions against Ukraine.
As night fell in Kiev, the “no man’s land” of smoking tires and wood was relit and Wynnyckyj said the wind is blowing smoke away from protesters and toward the riot police—one factor in favor of the opposition.