Kiev becomes a battle zone as Ukraine protests turn fatal

By Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev and Shaun Walker – The Guardian –

Wednesday is Ukraine’s Day of National Unity, but the country has never felt so divided.

At least three people have died in Kiev, the first casualties of a protest movement that has rumbled on for two months before bursting dramatically into violence over the weekend.

Two protesters were shot dead during clashes with police, who attempted to take back control of the city centre. Prosecutors confirmed earlier claims by the protest leaders that the pair had been shot with live ammunition. A third protester died after falling from a high column at Dynamo Kiev’s football stadium while fighting with police, Reuters reported.

Oleg Musiy, the coordinator of the medical service at Independence Square, told a pro-opposition radio station that another two people had been killed, though this could not be confirmed.

As President Viktor Yanukovych held long talks with the trio of opposition leaders who have led the protests for the past two months, the deaths seemed likely to further inflame the tense situation in the country.

Parts of central Kiev resembled a battle zone as thick clouds of smoke filled the air and the sound of stun grenades rang out. Police shot at demonstrators with rubber bullets, and rumours swirled that a storm of the main protest encampment, the heavily barricaded Independence Square, could begin at any time. At one point, police deployed an armoured personnel carrier to back up their movements.

Martial law was effectively declared at 4pm local time, as shops, hotels and other businesses in the area surrounding the hub of the protests were reportedly ordered to close their doors for the day. A full-on storm was not immediately forthcoming, however.

Riot police pulled back from further clashes but were involved in a protracted standoff with protesters near the Dynamo Kiev football stadium overnight. People brought thousands of tyres to create a blazing wall in between the police lines and the protest barricades. At midnight, a full-scale firework display was launched, with the rockets aimed horizontally at police. On Independence Square, the already formidable barricades were augmented with more sacks of snow, metal railings and tyres.

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