UPDATE (Friday, Feb. 21, 9:33 a.m.): Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych signed a deal Friday with opposition leaders and European and Russian mediators for early elections and a new government in hopes of ending a deadly political crisis.
UPDATE (Friday, Feb. 21, 8:20 a.m.): European officials say Ukrainian protesters have agreed to a deal with Ukraine’s president.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry tweeted Friday afternoon that the Maidan council, which has been leading the protest movement, “has decided that opposition leaders can sign the agreement.”
An opposition spokeswoman in Kiev said opposition leaders were heading to the president’s office and had agreed to a deal. It is unclear whether the protesters are putting any conditions on the agreement.
UPDATE (Friday, Feb. 21, 6:40 a.m.): Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced Friday that a deal has been reached to end the violence in Kiev, promising early presidential elections and a coalition government.
There was no immediate comment from opposition leaders, who were meeting among themselves.
In a statement on his website, Yanukovych said he would start the process for early elections but gave no date. He also promised constitutional reforms trimming presidential powers, a key demand of protesters.
OUR EARLIER REPORT: Kiev has turned into a war zone. After the bloodiest day in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, fears are on the rise that the government will send troops into the capital and declare martial law. The death toll continues to rise with the latest official count from Thursday’s clashes at 67, but protesters remain firmly planted in Maidan, Kiev’s center city square, and have regained lost ground and captured dozens of riot police accused of firing live ammunition at them.
Thursday’s violence began early in the morning when protesters armed with axes and makeshift shields drove back riot police and took over the area surrounding the Ukrania hotel. Smoke billowed from burning barricades as protesters threw firebombs and cobblestones at riot police. Police countered with sniper fire, felling dozens of protesters. Bodies lined the front of the October Palace, and protesters paid their respects throughout the day.
Some speculated a reason for the public shrines: Protest leaders feared police would abduct the bodies from hospitals, removing all evidence of death by sniper fire. Church planter Jonathan Eide said protesters Thursday were calling for drone pilots “to come with their hobby drones” so they could attach cameras and look for snipers.
Olga Bogomolets, a doctor treating wounded protesters, confirmed the use of metal bullets during a press conference today and said that more than 1,500 people have been injured. There are 10 medical centers set up in buildings throughout the Maidan (also know as Independence Square), including one in Saint Michael’s Cathedral. Social media sites are alive with video of protesters being treated by frantic volunteers, scrambling to determine who is alive and who is dead.
An additional 26 people died in clashes Wednesday, with dozens still missing or in critical condition.
“This is causing a level of panic in Kiev, with ATMs in Kiev and all Ukraine running out of money,” Eide told me.
Ukrainians across the country are reporting long lines at banks, gas stations, and grocery stores. “Some retailers already refuse to accept plastic cards and want only cash,” a Donetsk resident wrote on Facebook.
Ukrainians are also flocking to key roads and bridges in an attempt to block military and police units called to the capital. On the Obukhov-Kiev Highway, citizens kicked out the traffic police and set up a checkpoint to prevent “titushky,” or government-hired thugs, from entering Kiev. Residents of Zhytomyr launched an “Automaidan,” or car blockade, to prevent troops in their town from deploying to the Maidan.
In some districts, there are signs that police forces are either protecting activists or asking for blockades to prevent their deployment. On Wednesday afternoon, about 5,000 protesters gathered at Kiev’s main airport in an attempt to prevent Cabinet members from fleeing the country.
What began three months ago as a group of students protesting the president’s move to abandon a trade deal with the European Union in favor of a $15 billion bailout package from Russia has turned into a full-scale revolutionary movement. President Viktor Yanukovych is attempting to paint the protesters as radicals using terrorist tactics, but opposition to the government’s violent response has spread to eastern regions of the country that are traditionally loyal to president.
Kiev’s mayor, Volodymyr Makeyenko, quit the country’s ruling Party of Region Thursday—a sign that some politicians loyal to the president are beginning to cave—but protesters are holding out for the resignation of President Yanukovych and new elections.
Ukrainian pop star Ruslana Lyzhychko has been on the frontlines of the Maidan protests since the beginning and spoke to activists in Independence Square as the day drew to a close. “They could force us away or even kill us, but after us there will be more people,” she said as a gentleman next to her translated into English. “They’re calling us terrorists. They’re calling us fascists. But [Yanukovych] doesn’t even know the people he is calling these names. We are the people of Ukraine!”
She ended with one final message to the international community: “You cannot deal with Yanukovych.”