Ukraine works on new gov't; president's whereabouts unknown (LIVE BLOG)



A protester stands on a barricade in front of the remains of the Trade Union building on Kyiv's Independence Square after Ukraine's deputy army chief resigned in protest on Feb. 21, 2014. On Saturday, the Interior Ministry transferred their support to the people of Ukraine as parliament considered impeaching President Yanukovych, who has left the capital.




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UPDATE: 2/23/14 8:23 AM ET

Emotions run high in Independence Square, with mourning ceremonies to honor the dead continuing on Sunday.

As local journalist Olga Rudenko reported for GlobalPost yesterday, the joy many felt after Yanukovych was impeached was marred by grief for those fallen in recent days.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 8:04 AM ET

CCTV footage of Yanukovych fleeing his lavish home with his belongings by helicopter, trucks

UPDATE: 2/23/14 7:49 AM ET

New government in the works

Parliament has given itself three days to form a new government after impeaching Yanukovych and calling early elections.

The speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, has taken charge.

Yanukovych's whereabouts are a mystery, though rumor has it he's hiding out in the east.

Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Independence Square, also known as Maidan, where the atmosphere is calm.

Here's a live look at the square from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 4:15 PM ET

Tymoshenko gets mixed reviews after Maidan speech

Most say they missed her oratorical prowess, but many still on the fence over whether they want her as a leader. It's not going to be an easy in for Tymoshenko.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 3:54 PM ET

Yanukovych tried to bribe his way out of the country

Reuters reports:

Ukraine's border authorities said on Saturday it had refused to allow President Viktor Yanukovich to leave the country, Interfax news agency said.

Armed men had tried to bribe border staff at Donetsk airport in the east of the country to allow the charter flight to take off but they had refused, the agency, quoting an aide of the head of the state border service, said.

Yanukovich subsequently got off the plane and left in a waiting car, it said.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 3:00 PM ET

An emotional Tymoshenko speaks on Maidan from her wheelchair

Thousands cheered in Independence Square as the former prime minister said a "dictatorship has fallen" and begged forgiveness for "all politicians, regardless of political party."

UPDATE: 2/22/14 1:45 PM ET

Tymoshenko lands in Kyiv

"My biggest luck is to come back in totally different Ukraine where dictatorship ended today," she said at Kyiv airport.

Here's the crowd waiting for her in Independence Square:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:35 PM ET

Tymoshenko to run for president

Here's the first video (sorry, no English) of the former prime minister since her release from jail:

She's still in a wheelchair; jail wasn't too kind.

But according to the Twittersphere, she's got big plans:

We're sure to hear more from her as soon as she gets to Independence Square.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:25 PM ET

Yanukovych blocked from flying to Russia

AFP reports:

Ukraine's border police blocked Viktor Yanukovych from flying to Russia and the embattled president is thought to be "hiding" in the country's east, the newly elected Parliament speaker said on Saturday.

"He tried to take a plane to Russia but he was blocked in doing so by border police. He is currently hiding somewhere in the Donetsk region," Oleksandr Turchyno was quoted as saying by Ukrainian news agency Interfax.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:00 PM ET

GlobalPost's Olga Rudenko finds mixed emotions in Kyiv

Anti-government protests have been ongoing for three months, and protesters are clearly overjoyed to have something, finally, to celebrate.

Their excitement, however, is marred by the memory of some 70 protesters who died when clashes with police turned violent this week.

The mood in Kyiv's Independence Square, the epicenter of protests, reflects those mixed emotions. Mourners have strewn flowers to honor the dead. Every now and then political talks on the stage stop to give way for prayers.

"It's not a complete victory yet, but this gives us the way to make changes," said Kuchapin, smiling.

Read her full report here.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 11:03 AM ET

Tymoshenko on her way to Maidan

Twitter is abuzz with the news that Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister who was jailed until today, is on her way to join the cause.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 10:41 AM ET

New presidential elections planned for May 25

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:47 AM ET

Pics from GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:40 AM ET


Live look at Independence Square in Kyiv from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:22 AM ET

Yanukovych speaks up after fleeing

Change appears to be taking hold swiftly after Yanukovych fled to eastern Ukraine. But he appeared on TV Saturday to say though he's moved eastward for a spell, he's not down for the count:

He said that the east of the country remains "safe" unlike Kyiv, and the west. He also vowed to protect the country from criminals and called events in Kyiv a coup d'etat.

Stay tuned for more.


Live stream of Ukraine's parliament from Espreso TV, a privately owned channel in Ukraine:


The view around the president's mansion outside central Kyiv, which by all accounts has been abandoned:

Live streaming video by Ustream

UPDATE: 2/22/14 8:44 AM ET

It may not all be 'glory' from here

The latest from GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv:

....Developments here are unfolding at lightning pace, with the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, steaming ahead with draft laws aimed at dismantling the Yanukovych regime piece by piece.

By mid-day Saturday, parliament had voted to formally free jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s top rival and the country’s most famous political prisoner.

Parliament also elected a new speaker and interior minister from the opposition Fatherland party, while the country’s interior ministry issued a statement claiming it was shifting its loyalty to the people.

“We bow our heads to the blessed memory of the dead,” the statement said, in reference to the at least 77 protesters killed in clashes with police and security forces last week.

The ministry also urged public cooperation in maintaining law and order in the country, tellingly ending its address with the greeting that has become ubiquitous among Ukraine’s protesters: “Glory to Ukraine!”

Police and security forces appear to have withdrawn from most of central Kyiv, allowing protesters to roam freely around parliament and the presidential administration.

But amid the apparent power vacuum in Kyiv and Yanukovych’s flight to eastern Ukraine, fears remained over the potential threat of separatism in a country still largely split along cultural and linguistic lines.

Particularly worrying was an announcement by Kharkiv Governor Mykhailo Dobkin — a staunch pro-Yanukovych official — of a special congress on Saturday for pro-regime delegates from Russian-speaking southern and eastern Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych and his ruling party remains strong....

Read his full report here, and follow him on Twitter @dpeleschuk.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 5:48 AM ET

Protesters claim control of Kyiv; President Yanukovych reportedly flees

Ukraine's interior ministry transferred its loyalty to "the people" on Saturday in a statement released online.

Parliament voted in a new speaker after Volodymyr Rybakas, an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, submitted his resignation. Yanukovych reportedly fled to eastern Ukraine.

"Masses of journalists and citizens have been flocking to the president's mansion outside central Kyiv, which by all accounts has been abandoned," GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk said from the Ukrainian capital.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Friday that a deal aimed at halting bloody clashes between government forces and protesters in Ukraine needs to be implemented quickly so that the country stabilizes, a US official told Reuters.

Follow our Twitter list for further developments in Ukraine.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 5:10 PM ET

Unconfirmed reports that Yanukovych left Kyiv

Multiple sources, none of them confirmed, have suggested the Ukrainian president left Kyiv:

Here is the story about the alleged threats of violence:

UPDATE: 2/21/14 3:30 PM ET

Figures emerging from the protests

Kyiv Post's Olga Rudenko on figures who have gained prominence over the course of the protests.

Summary: Two figures who have emerged since the Kyiv protests began are the radical group Right Sector's leader, Dmytro Yarosh and lawmaker Andriy Parubiy. Yarosh wasn't a public figure before the protests started. He's supported by the radical protesters.

Parubiy used to be a member of Tymoshenko's former party. He took responsibility for how the protest camps function, overseeing the makeshift kitchens and medical centers. He earned a lot of respect, by taking charge of the daily life of the city-within-a-city.

Anti-government protesters pay their respects to those killed in clashes Thursday. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 2/21/14 3:20 PM ET

Tymoshenko's release may not have much impact on protests

Olga Rudenko says the potential release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is unlikely to have a large impact on the protesters:

Summary: From the protesters' perspective, Yulia Tymoshenko is hardly seen as the leader of the people. Some of the members of her party placed a huge banner on the square, which caused a lot of controversy and debate. Protesters said their fight was not about Tymoshenko, but about human rights in Ukraine.

The protesters have never voiced a clear demand for Tymoshenko's release.

A banner with Tymoshenko's picture flies above protesters. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Image)

UPDATE: 2/21/14 3:10 PM ET

"The revolution will go on"

Listen to Olga Rudenko's wrap of Kyiv Post on further reaction:

Summary: Protesters said they don't want opposition leaders coming to the stage of Independence Square with news like this [deal]. While it's certainly a compromise and no one gets everything they want, protesters are not happy with it. They are ready to part with their leaders and continue the revolution on their own.

One of the leaders of the nationalistic group called Right Sector said the revolution of the Ukrainian people will go on until all the demands are fulfilled, and one of the main demands is that Yanukovych leave office as soon as possible.

Opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko (L) and Arseniy Yatsenyuk (C) with German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R). Sergei Supinski/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: 2/21/14 2:50 PM ET

EuroMaidan protesters are not happy with the deal

GlobalPost talked to Olga Rudenko, an editor at Kyiv Post, about the reaction in Independence Square to the deal signed by Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

You can listen to her here:

Summary: It was very crowded in Independence Square today, with crowds mostly reacting to the aftermath of the violence yesterday that killed dozens of protesters. Protesters don't like the deal, that is for sure.

While they feel good about a new government and amnesty for protesters, they are angry that Yanukovych is allowed to stay in power until December.

They want him to be prosecuted for the violence. Most of the protesters, based on interviews, see Yanukovych as responsible for the deaths that happened.

(Brendan Hoffman/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 2/21/14 12:10 PM ET

White House responds to Ukraine deal

More on Tymoshenko's release:

And more from Reuters on the White House's response to the Ukraine deal:

The White House welcomed a deal aimed at halting bloody clashes between government forces and protesters in Ukraine on Friday but said the United States remains prepared to impose sanctions if needed.

"Now the focus must be on implementing this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely," White Housespokesman Jay Carney said.

Senior U.S. officials had been preparing new sanctions to impose on Ukraine's government after dozens of people were killed in Kiev during mass demonstrations this week.

The peace deal, mediated by the European Union, appeared to head that off for the time being as PresidentBarack Obama waits to see whether the agreement leads to an end to violence.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 11:40 AM ET

Ukraine parliament votes to release Yulia Tymoshenko

This is big:

This is Tymoshenko:

UPDATE: 2/21/14 11:30 AM ET

Reaction from UK, EU

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had this to say about the signing off the deal (via the Guardian):

"They [the opposition] have to do this in the context of working closely with President Yanukovych, who has made it clear by his signature that he wants to do this. We now have to make sure this is what happens. I don’t think this is about being outmanoeuvred. I’ve just had a long conversation with my colleague [Russian] foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, we’ve been talking about the situation and we both agree that this violence stops and that we begin to see a move forward."

British Prime Minister David Cameron also made a statement:

"[The deal] should foster a lasting political solution to the crisis and President Yanukovych, his administration and the opposition must all get behind this deal and deliver it according to the timetable set out. In particular, the 2004 constitution must be restored within the next two days and a national unity government should be in place by the beginning of March."

UPDATE: 2/21/14 11:25 AM ET

Interior minister dismissed...

More developments:

UPDATE: 2/21/14 11:10 AM ET

The protests aren't over yet...

Deals may have been signed in offices, but demonstrators continued to chant in Kyiv's Independence Square.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 10:00 AM ET

Back to 2004 constitution

Reuters reported: Ukrainian parliament votes to approve moves to revert to 2004 constitution, stripping president of some powers

And more details on the deal struck by Yanukovych and the opposition:

UPDATE: 2/21/14 9:20 AM ET

Yanukovych and opposition sign deal

Reuters — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Friday signed an agreement with three opposition leaders to end a crisis that sparked violent clashes between protesters and police on the streets of the capital Kyiv.

A Reuters correspondent at the signing in the presidential headquarters said Yanukovych did not smile during a ceremony lasting several minutes.

The agreement followed an announcement by Yanukovych to hold early elections, to form a national unity government and relinquish some of his presidential powers. The agreement was witnessed by two European Union foreign ministers who brokered the deal.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 7:30 AM ET

Rumblings of protest

Reuters — European Union ministers will hold new talks with Ukrainian opposition leaders and representatives of anti-government protesters on Friday, in an apparent new effort to secure an agreement to resolve the country's crisis.

The Ukrainian authorities had expected a deal to be signed at noon (1000 GMT) but the signing did not take place.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was heading for new talks, diplomatic sources said, and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said he and Steinmeier would meet representatives of the protesters.

Christopher Miller, an editor at Kyiv Post, told NBC, "What we're hearing from protesters, in so many words, is that this supposed settlement is 'crap.' They're not going to stand for what they deem are minor concessions."

"They would much prefer to stay on the square and continue fighting."

"[This morning] I saw more protesters arriving. They’re not backing down. If anything, they are reinforcing barricades," he said.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 6:30 AM ET

Yanukovych announces early elections

Reuters — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich announced agreement on Friday to hold presidential elections early, form a national unity government and make constitutional changes reducing his powers.

He made the announcement in a statement after all-night talks with the opposition and three European Union ministers on resolving a crisis in which 77 people were killed in two days of gun battles between protesters and police.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 6:00 PM ET

Signing off

We will pick up coverage on this live blog again tomorrow. For overnight developments, you can follow our Twitter list of journalists.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 5:25 PM ET

"Why are they killing them?"

The Associated Press' Yuras Karmanau wrote an account of the violence in Kyiv:

"When I walked out into the Maidan, clad in a helmet and a flak jacket, I saw bodies lying on the pavement. Ten in one place, another six a short walk away, five more farther away. The demonstrators were killed with precise shots to their heads or necks, the hallmarks of snipers.

"People were gathering around the dead, many of them weeping. Some covered the bodies with Ukrainian flags, others brought Orthodox icons. A priest conducted a remembrance service.

"I felt a bit sick. Many of the victims were only in their 30s and 40s, full of energy just a few hours ago.

"I kept asking myself: Why are they killing them? The protesters had no firearms that I could see, and snipers could have instead incapacitated them by shooting their feet or arms."

Read Karmanau's full account.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 4:45 PM ET

Kyiv's Independence Square — EuroMaidan

This is the nerve center of Ukraine's protests, Independence Square in Kyiv:

Since becoming the focal point for anti-government protesters favoring closer ties with the European Union, it has earned the name EuroMaidan, and been the site of barricades and burning tires:

UPDATE: 2/20/14 4:25 PM ET

What will Russia do next?

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk weighs in on the Kremlin's concerns and possible next moves from Moscow:

As fierce urban fighting continued in central Kyiv Thursday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an unusually strong statement that Russia would continue its strategic cooperation with Ukraine so long as the authorities remain “legitimate and effective.”

But he also appeared to warn the Yanukovych administration against being a “doormat” on which people “wipe their feet,” Russian news agencies reported.

That’s likely a reflection of the growing frustration among top Russian officials who’d earlier relied on Yanukovych to rein in the protesters both he and the Kremlin have long cast as “terrorists” and violent “extremists.”

Also undoubtedly troubling for the Kremlin is seeing Yanukovych's authority — both in Kyiv and nationwide — slipping quickly.

Local media reports have widely documented the capture of police conscripts by protesters and, in some cases, their open surrender.

A major shock to the regime came when Kyiv's top official, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced in an address to the president on Thursday that he was leaving the ruling Party of Regions and shifting his loyalty to the people on the streets.

That news followed reports detailing the defection of other party members around the country.

Read more: Russia wants Ukraine for itself. What will it do to keep it?

UPDATE: 2/20/14 4:15 PM ET

Ukraine parliament's vote to pull back troops

Rada is a reference to Ukraine's parliament.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 4:05 PM ET

EU foreign ministers face difficult negotiations

Reuters — France's foreign minister said on Thursday there was still no agreement over a proposed roadmap to ease the crisis in Ukraine, describing the talks as "very difficult."

"There is no agreement for now, the negotiations are very difficult and we are working to reach a peaceful solution," Fabius told reporters before leaving with his Polish and German counterparts to see Ukrainian President Yanukovych after a more than two-hour meeting with the opposition.

The three ministers, who extended their stay in Kyiv until Friday, have been negotiating with the government and opposition since Thursday morning.

Diplomatic sources indicated earlier that the roadmap would include forming a temporary government.

"We have to find every way to see how we can put a new government in place, think about elections and see how we can end the violence, but at this moment there is no solution," Fabius said.

In a sign of further diplomatic efforts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama by phone on Thursday to tell them about the mission of the French, Polish and German foreign ministers in Kyiv, her spokesman said.

They all agreed that a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine must be found as soon as possible and that the escalating bloodshed must stop, he added.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 3:50 PM ET

Parliament votes to de-escalate the situation

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health has updated its death toll to 75 since clashes began in Kyiv on Tuesday, according to RIA Novosti (as translated by the Guardian). Another 571 were injured, of which 363 were hospitalized.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 2:50 PM ET

The aftermath

The BBC's correspondents in Kyiv:

Reporter for Ukraine's opposition friendly Channel 5:

UPDATE: 2/20/14 2:40 PM ET

Opposition leader: No clear decision

Reuters — Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said on Thursday he hoped that the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland would be able to hammer out a roadmap with President Yanukovych and leaders of the opposition later tonight.

"We have no clear decision yet. We hope for a result tonight," he told reporters, adding that the final decision would depend on Yanukovych.

From the Polish foreign minister's Twitter account:

UPDATE: 2/20/14 2:25 PM ET

French, German, Polish ministers stay in Kyiv to negotiate

More context from Senior Correspondent Paul Ames:

The decision by EU foreign ministers to agree to sanctions on those responsible for the violence in Ukraine — but to hold off on giving details who will be hit by its travel ban and asset freeze — will give more leeway to the EU mission in Kyiv seeking to negotiate an end to the bloodshed.

That mission — comprised of foreign ministers from Poland, France and Germany — decided to stay in the Ukrainian capital overnight after day-long talks with the government and opposition leaders raised their hopes that some sort of solution could be found despite the carnage going on around them.

On Friday, the EU delegation will again seek to persuade President Yanukovych and the diverse group of opposition leaders to accept a plan that could include the formation of an inclusive transitional government, constitutional reforms and early elections.

That task was hard before this week's bloodletting. It is now infinitely more difficult.

It is tough to see how the opposition can stomach working with elements of a regime which has ordered snipers to gun down their comrades. On the other hand, Yanukovych must be aware that after killings on such a scales, a deal that sees him lose power could also see him facing exile or worse.

"No circumstances can justify the repression we are witnessing. Those responsible for human rights violations should be brought to justice," the EU foreign ministers said in their statement.

Officials in Brussels will start work Friday morning on drawing up the list of those in Ukraine to be included on the sanctions list which, according to Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore will be ready by the end of this week.

One key factor now will be how Russia responds to the EU sanctions, and the desperate peace bid by the three European ministers.

Putin has stood by Yanukovych so far and Russian officials have urged a tougher stance against the protesters. The EU will be hoping that given the prospect of a both a civil war on Russia's doorstep and a diplomatic confrontation with the West, Putin may be induced to support a negotiated compromise.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 2:05 PM ET

Yanukovych might hold early elections: EU foreign ministers

Reuters — European Union foreign ministers who met Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday found a willingness to call early elections to resolve the violent stand-off with the opposition, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference.

"The three ministers are in Kyiv discussing a certain document, which gives a chance to bring an end to violence and achieve an agreement. A willingness for early elections, already this year, parliamentary as well as presidential, was agreed," Tusk said, describing the meeting with Yanukovich.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski was one of the EU delegation which met Yanukovych, along with his French and German counterparts.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 1:35 PM ET

Russia & Europe's tug-of-war over Ukraine

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames has been keeping track of the movements in Brussels:

Ashton, meaning Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs representative.

Hague refers to British Foreign Minister William Hague.

A former member of parliament of Russian President Vladimir Putin's party told BBC Newshour earlier on Thursday that reports of Ukrainian police firing on protesters were "100 percent a lie." He called the clashes a coup and said Yanukovych had no option but to utilize force.

"We should understand that this coup d'etat is at the peak of its development. Either a democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, will use force to stop a coup d'etat, or he will step down, and the coup will win."

Meanwhile, the Polish, French and German foreign ministers are still in Kyiv.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 1:20 PM ET

An update on the death toll

An update from Reuters on the death toll:

"Kiev's city health department said 67 people had been killed since Tuesday, which meant at least 39 died in Thursday's clashes. That was by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago."


Agence France-Presse estimated that at least 60 people were killed Thursday.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 12:50 PM ET

Jailed Ukrainian former prime minister speaks out

Yulia Tymoshenko — former prime minister of Ukraine who has been in prison since 2011 — released a statement through her party's website on Thursday, according to BBC News:

"I demand that the opposition never sit down at the negotiating table with Yanukovych. Any of us who breaks this taboo will become Yanukovych's accomplice in killing innocent people."

UPDATE: 2/20/14 11:55 AM ET

Meanwhile, in Brussels...

Reuters —  European Union foreign ministers have agreed to move ahead with imposing sanctions including visa bans and asset freezes on those responsible for the violence in Ukraine, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said on Thursday.

Speaking as she left an emergency gathering in Brussels, Bonino said the position had been agreed with the French, German and Polish foreign ministers, who are currently in Kyiv negotiating with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

"The decision is to proceed very rapidly, in the next hours, to a visa ban and asset freeze on those who have committed the violence," she told reporters.

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames provides some context:

European Union foreign ministers in Brussels debated imposing an arms embargo on Ukraine and targeted sanctions against the regime including a visa ban and asset freeze on officials judged responsible for the violence.

The talks were held without the ministers from Poland, France and Germany who flew to Kyiv this morning for talks with President Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

Long criticized for inaction in the face of police violence against Kyiv's protesters, EU nations have been forced to act by the level of bloodshed this week.

"How many more should be killed in order for us not just to express concern?" asked Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, as he arrived for the Brussels talks.

A travel ban would have a powerful symbolic value, effectively reducing Yanukovych and other Ukrainian leaders to the status of pariahs for the EU — on par with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, or Belarus leader Aleksander Lukashenko. An asset freeze could also deal a blow to government officials and powerful business backers who have money stashed in EU countries like Britain and Austria.

However, it uncertain at this stage what impact the moves would have on moderating the regime's action, given the strong support it receives from Russia. The arms embargo will have little practical effect since Ukrainian forces are well stocked with domestically produced and Russian weapons.

Beyond the sanctions on Ukraine, it's increasingly looking like the Europe and the United States need to focus pressure on Russian leader Vladimir Putin who has huge influence over the Ukrainian leadership.

"There are levers. Merkel and Obama must privately send very clear messages to Putin that they're ready to use them," tweeted Uli Speck, an expert with the Carnegie Europe think tank.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 11:40 AM ET

The story behind this photo

The AFP photographer who captured this image wrote about the circumstances as he snapped the photo:

"I arrived late Wednesday night in the middle of Independence Square and saw this barricade. Parts of it were on fire from the Molotov cocktails being hurled between protesters and police.

I saw protesters throwing the petrol bombs, but they were also using some sort of homemade canon – it was made from a long iron tube, a bit like a mortar.

Early on Thursday morning, I saw these three guys burning. I’m not sure how they caught fire – some claimed it was the police who’d thrown the petrol bombs, others said it was the protesters."

UPDATE: 2/20/14 11:15 AM ET

How the violence began after a 'truce' was declared

The Guardian described how events unfurled after Yanukovych and opposition leaders had reached a tentative truce on Wednesday night:

"The violence started shortly before 9am when protesters armed with axes, knives, truncheons and corrugated iron shields advanced on to a bridge in the centre of the Ukranian capital and drove riot police back from Independence Square.

"Within an hour, the area surrounding the Ukrania hotel, which had been under the control of riot police, fell to the protesters. The police lines dissolved as they were bussed away to be replaced by the feared "Berkut" special forces. Kiev soon became a battleground.

"Dozens of people – some injured, some dying and some dead – were dragged away on planks of wood or makeshift stretchers. Others were simply dragged along the ground on their backs, still under fire."

Read the full report at the Guardian.

The White House released this statement:

UPDATE: 2/20/14 10:55 AM ET

Opposition medic says death toll as high as 70

Here is some footage, via EuroNews, that shows "protesters being shot at in front of hotel Ukraina."

WARNING: This video contains graphic footage which some readers may find disturbing:

UPDATE: 2/20/14 10:40 AM ET

Troops captured by protesters?

The Kyiv Post reported that around 50 troops from Ukraine's Interior Ministry were captured by protesters and taken to the opposition-controlled post office.

This later statement puts the number at a higher 67:

As BuzzFeed's Max Seddon, who is now in Kyiv, reported:

"Protesters managed to capture at least 60 riot policemen, their faces battered and bloody. A priest led them past City Hall late Thursday morning in the direction of the Energy Ministry. Activists BuzzFeed spoke to said the men were all Interior Ministry conscripts, as opposed to the hated elite Berkut crowd control division, and had surrendered peacefully."

The rising death toll in Kyiv includes at least 12 policemen, according to Reuters.


UPDATE: 2/20/14 10:30 AM ET

What can the EU do?

Earlier, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had to reschedule a meeting with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland as the violence escalated.

The meeting was eventually held, but the signs don't look good.

BBC News translated a tweet from journalist Pavel Sheremet: "The (EU) foreign ministers have emerged looking gloomy from the meeting President Yanukovych and left without saying a word to journalists. It's a bad sign."

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames weighed in Wednesday on Ukraine has turned into Europe's nightmare.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 10:20 AM ET

Death toll rises

At least 42 protesters have been confirmed dead by Christopher Miller, editor at Kyiv Post. Many of them appeared to have gunshot wounds.

BBC News had 22 confirmed deaths:

Ukrainian parliament's human rights commissioner Valeria Lutkovska said at least 50 people had been killed as of Thursday afternoon, since the protests turned violent on Tuesday.

"Information that I have indicates that about 50 people have been killed as of today, but there have been reports that there are many more victims. Hundreds of people have been hospitalized," she said, according to The Washington Post.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 7:40 AM ET

Meanwhile, Russia...

Russia, which is expected to deliver $2 billion in aid to Ukraine this week, needs a strong bilateral partner, said the country's prime minister.

Dmitry Medvedev was quoted saying, "We will continue to cooperate with our Ukrainian partners in all areas, we will try to do everything to fulfill those promises which we gave. But at the same time for this to happen it is necessary for our partners themselves to be in good shape and for the authorities in Ukraine to be legitimate and effective."

Something might have been lost in translation, as AFP translated his remarks as such:

"We need partners who are in good shape and for the authorities that work in Ukraine to be legitimate and effective, so that people don't wipe their feet on the authorities like a doormat."

Some of the Ukrainian athletes participating in Sochi's Winter Olympics have decided to go home as Kyiv burns.

"I believe some of them have decided to return home and (Ukraine Olympic Committee president) Sergey Bubka has said he absolutely respects every individual's right to make their own decision," said Mark Adams, spokesman for the International Olympic Committee.

UPDATE: 2/20/14 6:52 AM ET

A truce in tatters

The truce agreed to by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders in Kyiv late Wednesday didn't last long at all.

At least 17 more protesters were killed in bloody clashes with riot police, according to Agence France-Presse correspondents at the scene.

"The bodies of at least 10 demonstrators with apparent gunshot wounds were lying on the ground outside Kozatsky hotel," near Kyiv's Independence Square, the AFP report said.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said, "The resumption of clashes on the Maidan (Independence Square) at a time when a truce was called is a planned provocation by the authorities against peaceful protesters."

Meanwhile, the main government building in Kyiv was evacuated as the clashes heated up.

"This morning, all cabinet employees were evacuated from the building. These were official orders," a spokeswoman for the government told AFP.

GlobalPost contributor Christopher Miller wrote for Mashable that at least 35 protesters could be confirmed dead, many from gunshot wounds.

"Several dozen bodies were carried on stretchers from the front lines to medical centers inside Kiev City Hall and the Central Post Office. Mashable counted the bodies of 35 protesters in total. Protesters laid them out and draped Ukrainian flags over their bodies."

UPDATE: 2/19/14 5:50 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. The live stream from Kyiv will continue. You can follow overnight developments in Ukraine on this Twitter list.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 5:45 PM ET

Editor offers a view of the unrest from the ground

Christopher Miller, an editor at the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, has been covering the months-long protests in Kyiv. The capital's Independence Square erupted into violence Tuesday night, as Ukrainian riot police tried to clear demonstrators from their protest camps.

The death toll had exceeded 25 by Wednesday morning, with hundreds more wounded.

As night fell on Wednesday, protesters were braced for Ukrainian authorities to once again try to clear EuroMaidan, as the encampment has come to be known. Before midnight, however, President Viktor Yanukovych said he had reached a "truce" with opposition leaders, and agreed to a "start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed."

One of the opposition leaders, Arseny Yatseniuk, said, "The storming of the Maidan (Independence Square) which the authorities had planned today will not take place."

Miller offered GlobalPost a troubling view of the unrest from behind protest lines.

LISTEN to his account here.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 4:50 PM ET

Footage of beaten, bloodied protesters

Warning: The contents of this video are graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers. GlobalPost did not independently verify the authenticity of this video.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 4:25 PM ET

Opposition confirms there will be no police action tonight

Reuters — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukoych said on Wednesday he had agreed a "truce" with opposition leaders, after street violence in which at least 26 people were killed, and a start to negotiations to end further bloodshed.

A statement on the presidential website said that during talks with the three main opposition leaders, Yanukovych had agreed firstly a truce and secondly "the start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilizing the situation in the state in the interests of social peace."

The statement, issued on the eve of a visit by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France, appeared to indicate that riot police who on Tuesday night advanced on to Kiev's Independence Square would not take further immediate steps to break up the encampment of protesters.

Former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk, one of the opposition leaders, said in a statement on the website of his Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party: "The storming of the Maidan (Independence Square) which the authorities had planned today will not take place.

"A truce has been declared. The main thing is to protect human life," he said.

Yanukovych issued his statement after meeting Yatseniuk and the two other opposition leaders, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 4:20 PM ET

But the fires are still burning...

UPDATE: 2/19/14 4:10 PM ET

A truce?

UPDATE: 2/19/14 4:00 PM ET

Clashes in Kyiv have affected Ukraine's Olympians too

Ukraine lies 600 miles away from Sochi, but its ripple effects can be felt there too.

"I am very mad for this, but we cannot do anything really. Change the government," 18-year-old downhill skier Dmytro Mystak told the Associated Press.

The International Olympic Committee's President Thomas Back expressed his condolences and commended the athletes for continuing to compete: "The way they have continued to represent their nation with great dignity is a credit to them and their country"

However, the IOC rejected a request from Ukrainian athletes to wear black armbands in mourning.

Not many of the Ukrainian athletes at Sochi had something to say.

Yosyf Penyak, a Ukrainian snowboarder, said, "No time to talk about politics."

UPDATE: 2/19/14 2:45 PM ET

'He has blood on his hands'

"We must be clear: ultimate responsibility for deaths and violence is with President Yanukovych," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, tweeted on Wednesday. "He has blood on his hands."

Leaders across Europe from French President Hollande to Polish Prime Minister Tusk have called for sanctions against Ukraine.

"These sanctions will show how seriously we are taking the defense of democratic rights," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a joint news conference with Hollande.

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames gives the view from Europe.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 2:35 PM ET

Obama warns Ukraine of consequences

Reuters — President Barack Obama warned on Wednesday that there would be consequences if violence continues in Ukraine, saying the Ukrainian military should not step into a situation that could be resolved by civilians.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Obama said he condemned the violence in Kiev in the strongest possible terms, and said he believes a peaceful resolution is still possible.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 2:05 PM ET

$2 billion credit from Russia delayed

An anonymous Ukrainian government source told Reuters the anticipated second tranche of a promised $15 billion aid package from Russia was delayed until Friday.

The source attributed the delay to "technical reasons."

The Russian president's spokesman told state news agency ITAR TASS he didn't know anything about it. "I cannot say anything about it yet."

ITAR TASS reported Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov hinting that the protests were the cause of the delay.

"Obviously, in a situation in which extremists are dictating what's happening in Ukraine, resolution of that very situation is a priority."

Here's BuzzFeed's Max Seddon with a visual representation:

Then... this:

UPDATE: 2/19/14 1:15 PM ET

Kyiv's Ring of Fire

The New York Times described the scene early on Wednesday:

"Protesters... stoked what they are calling a 'ring of fire' separating themselves from the riot police in a desperate effort on Wednesday to defend a stage on Independence Square that has been a focal point of their protests and to keep their three-month-old movement alive."

Russia Today posted this video, obtained from drone footage recorded by Ruptly international news agency:

UPDATE: 2/19/14 1:00 PM ET

Yanukovych fires army chief

The BBC had more details:

"The new armed forces chief is Adm Yuriy Ilyin, who was previously the head of the Ukrainian navy. No reason was given for Gen Zamana's dismissal."

UPDATE: 2/19/14 12:30 PM ET

How did it come to this?

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk has spent time covering the protests in Kyiv for the past few months. From his current location in Moscow, Peleschuk answered 3 questions about the current clashes — most importantly, how did it come to this?

The early watershed moment came when police violently raided a peaceful demonstration of mostly sleeping students on the Maidan late last year. It was all downhill from there, and it's largely been a bloody back-and-forth ever since: for example, protesters would march on a government building — or sometimes simply stand their ground — and police would crack down violently. The heavy-handed response would in turn further fuel anger, especially after the first reported deaths last month and amid widespread reports of activists being hunted down, abducted and tortured.

The violence has also given rise to some small yet influential radical groups that have spearheaded much of the anti-regime fighting. But the police actions have also radicalized many “ordinary” protesters, who see the armed, masked fighters on Maidan as their legitimate defenders from marauding security forces.

Read more about whether this has become a civil war, and what the West can do to promote a political solution.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 12:00 PM ET

Yanukovych accuses opposition of trying to seize power

While European Union leaders prepared sanctions, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accused opposition leaders of attempting to seize power.

Early on Wednesday, Yanukovych released a statement saying, "Without any mandate from the people, illegally and in breach of the constitution of Ukraine, these politicians — if I may use that term — have resorted to pogroms, arson and murder to try to seize power."

Our senior correspondent in Europe tweeted:

UPDATE: 2/19/14 11:25 AM ET

Journalist killed in Ukraine

A journalist was among the dead in Kyiv's clashes, according to The New York Times.

A Ukrainian NGO called Institute of Mass Information has compiled a list of journalists wounded in the clashes. The list includes Viacheslav Veremiy, who was reportedly killed on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear if Veremiy was the journalist mentioned in the Ukrainian Health Ministry's death toll.

[h/t Josh Stearns]

UPDATE: 2/19/14 11:15 AM ET

White House calls Kyiv violence 'completely outrageous'

Agence France-Presse — The White House on Wednesday called the deadly violence on the streets of the Ukrainian capital "completely outrageous" and renewed its appeal to President Viktor Yanukovych to de-escalate the situation.

Clashes in Kiev between police and anti-government protesters that have claimed 26 lives are "completely outrageous" and "have no place in the 21st century," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"We've made clear that we consider taking action against individuals who are responsible for acts of violence within Ukraine," he said.

"We have a toolkit for doing that that includes sanctions."

Obama is expected to make a statement on Ukraine later on Wednesday.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 10:05 AM ET

European leaders call for sanctions

French President Francois Hollande and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called for "rapid and targeted European sanctions against those leaders responsible for these acts" in reference to the violent clashes in Ukraine.

Tusk told Poland's parliament, "There's no doubt: the authorities in Kyiv are responsible for the victims and the drama in Kyiv, not the opposition."

The European Commission's president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said, "There are no circumstances that can legitimize or justify such scenes," according to The Financial Times.

"We have also made it clear that the EU will respond to any deterioration on the ground," Barroso said.

Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said he was on his way to Kyiv at the request of the European Union.

"At the request of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, I will soon start a mission in Kyiv," Sikorski said on Twitter. His spokesman did not give an exact time for Sikorski's trip.

UPDATE: 2/19/14 9:45 AM ET

Footage from Kyiv

This video footage, shot by Katya Gorchinskaya, provided by Christopher Miller of Kyiv Post, shows protesters digging up paving stones to hurl at police.

This one shows protesters preparing Molotov cocktails:

UPDATE: 2/19/14 6:10 AM ET

At least 25 are dead after unprecedented violence

AFP — Protesters braced Wednesday for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kyiv after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis.

Ukraine's health ministry said another 241 people were in the hospital; the local Kyiv Post put the number of injured at 1,000.

As dawn rose over Kyiv's battered city center, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square.

Overnight, security forces rained a volley of tear gas down on thousands of demonstrators as they ramped up attempts to clear the square where protesters have set up a sprawling tent city during three months of protests.

Swathes of the tent encampment have already been destroyed by fire and flames poured out of the windows of a gutted building on the square.

A wall of smoke and flames rose up into the dawn sky as the encampment continued to burn, while lines of police and protesters — both clutching shields and wearing helmets and body armor — faced off in an apocalyptic scene.

A defiant President Viktor Yanukovych rejected calls to halt the ferocious assault on the bloodiest day since protests broke out in November, when he ditched a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with former master Russia.

In an address to the nation as clashes raged, he said the opposition had gone too far and accused them of trying to oust him.

"The leaders of the opposition have disregarded the principle of democracy according to which we obtain power through elections and not on the street ... they have crossed the limits by calling for people to take up arms," he said, adding those responsible would face the law.

Read the rest of this report.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 5:45 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is closed (for now), but the live stream above will continue to broadcast. Please follow our Twitter list for updates on the Kyiv protests.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 5:40 PM ET

Reports of government blocking roads and opposition friendly media

We have gathered all the reports from journalists and researchers following events in Kyiv that suggest the government has tried to isolate the protesters.

The subway has reportedly been shutdown, as has the opposition friendly Channel 5. Find the full list here.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 5:35 PM ET

Reports of shooting and riot police taking over revolutionary headquarters

Note: This video has not been verified for its authenticity:

UPDATE: 2/18/14 5:25 PM ET

Berkut on the offensive: Reports

UPDATE: 2/18/14 4:30 PM ET

Some ominous signs

As President Viktor Yanukovych reportedly meets with opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, there are some ominous signs in Kyiv's Independence Square:

UPDATE: 2/18/14 4:25 PM ET

Death toll rises to 13


UPDATE: 2/18/14 4:10 PM ET

Protesters are surrounded by armed police

"People are surrounded; they have no place to run," Former Deputy Prime Minister and civic activist Oleg Rybachuk told BBC News. Rybachuk said the police were armed.

"I emphasize again that they are armed. Armed with Kalashnikovs. There are armored personnel carriers and three water guns."

UPDATE: 2/18/14 3:30 PM ET

Crimea watches Kyiv closely

For some context, here is an article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

"The people of Crimea are watching with nervous expectation as the political and economic crisis in Ukraine drags on.

"Crimea is Ukraine's only region where ethnic Russians are a majority, comprising approximately 60 percent of its 2 million population. From the 18th century until just 60 years ago on February 19, the peninsula was part of Russia. And as Ukraine's turmoil shakes the region's ethnic and religious fault lines, there is increasing talk that perhaps it should be again."

UPDATE: 2/18/14 2:30 PM ET

US citizens warned to stay indoors

The United States embassy in Kyiv has warned American citizens to stay indoors:

It reads: "February 18 has seen a sharp escalation in violence between protesters and police. The Ukrainian security services have announced that following today's violence they may take extraordinary measures beginning this evening (February 18). The Embassy advises all Citizens to maintain a low profile and to remain indoors."

UPDATE: 2/18/14 2:20 PM ET

The view from Russia

Dan Peleschuk is in Moscow, Russia:

Mykhailo Dobkin is the mayor of Khariv in eastern Ukraine, and a loyal Yanukovych supporter.

What's the reason behind Russia's interest in the former Soviet satellite?

There are at least 7 reasons.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 1:55 PM ET

The police assault has begun

News services have confirmed what reports from journalists and scenes from the live stream have indicated. The police in Kyiv have begun their advance:

Agence France-Presse reported:

Police warned women and children to leave the area as they moved on opposition positions with water cannon while protestors responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and setting fire to part of the tent encampment.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 1:50 PM ET

The sounds of a revolution

Video of protesters singing the Ukrainian national anthem as the police begin their assault.

[h/t @MaximEristavi]

UPDATE: 2/18/14 1:40 PM ET

Yanukovych not picking up his phone

Espreso TV, the source of our live stream, is a private channel in Ukraine.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 1:10 PM ET

Seems like the beginning of a crackdown

UPDATE: 2/18/14 12:55 PM ET

The presence of radicals

Earlier Tuesday, Dan Peleschuk tweeted:

Peleschuk took a closer look at the growing influence of radicals among Ukraine protesters. He described the Right Sector as "a conglomeration of quasi-militant far-right groups that has spearheaded much of the recent violence between police and protesters."

This is where things stood at the end of January:

Critics are raising fears about the ultra-nationalist bent of some fighters, including those from Right Sector, who openly advocate violence and venerate wartime Ukrainian nationalist leaders still perceived by many Ukrainians as traitors and extremists.

Curiously, however, many ordinary protesters are so far showing apparently unconditional support for even the most aggressive radicals.

The morning after a violent siege of the Ukrainian House exhibition center near Independence Square this week, women flocked in and set up a makeshift kitchen to serve hot tea and noodle soup to exhausted protesters, many bearing nationalist insignias.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 12:45 PM ET

Death toll rises to 9

At least nine people have been killed in the clashes so far, according to the Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for the Kyiv police told the AP that seven civilians and two policemen had been killed. Three of the civilians were shot.

Opposition leaders have warned that security forces may be amassing to clear the protest camps in Independence Square.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 11:40 AM ET

Night has fallen...

... in Kyiv.

These were the scenes earlier Tuesday as captured by the Associated Press:

And Dan Peleschuk translating what the live stream is saying:

Now that the deadline for protesters to end the disturbance has passed:

UPDATE: 2/18/14 11:20 AM ET

Scenes from the past

The protests in Kyiv have gone through periods of violence, periods of camaraderie. Dan Peleschuk has spent time there, documenting them:

This was the scene three weeks ago:

Four weeks ago:

Two months ago, with protesters singing, when the protests were still young:


9 gritty photos of life as a Kyiv protester

UPDATE: 2/18/14 11:15 AM ET

A deadline passes

A deadline issued by the state security services has passed in Kyiv.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 11:10 AM ET

How things turned ugly

Just a day earlier, detained protesters were released as part of an amnesty deal and demonstrators occupying Kyiv's city hall vacated it. So, what happened in the 24 hours?

Christopher Miller wrote for Mashable from Kyiv:

A session was set to take place there this morning in which opposition lawmakers hoped to pass amendments to the constitution that would curb the powers of the president. However, it was cancelled due to the violence outside.

The struggle began after dozens of protesters managed to break through a police cordon comprised of four large military trucks. They managed to release the emergency brake of one of the trucks and push it aside.

Protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police, who in turn heaved tear gas and noise grenades at the group. At least five police, including two snipers, were seen atop a nearby building, throwing down tear gas at protesters, firing metal pellets and using the high vantage point to single out the most radical of participants.

Read the full account at Mashable.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 10:30 AM ET

Clashes come a day after Russian aid

The clashes in Kyiv come just a day after Moscow released $2 billion in aid to Ukraine so the former Soviet satellite could shore up its economy.

Reuters reported:

The $2 billion injection, a resumption of a $15 billion aid package, was seen as signal that Russia believed President Viktor Yanukovych had a plan to bring street demonstrations under control and had scrapped any idea of bringing opposition leaders into government.

But as protesters and police battled on the streets, Moscow blamed the escalation as a "direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes ... to the aggressive actions of radical forces."

Russia had seemingly won a struggle for influence over Ukraine with the West with its fiscal package that helped persuade Yanukovych to snub a trade deal with the European Union in November. But protesters who have claimed the center of the capital, Kiev, as their own are not going quietly.

"I think Russia received some kind of assurances from the Kyiv leadership that were satisfactory, because only a day before there was nothing like it," said Gleb Pavlovsky, former Kremlin adviser and political analyst in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Christopher Miller, an editor at The Kyiv Post, tweeted:

UPDATE: 2/18/14 10:15 AM ET

At least four reported dead

Four people have reportedly been killed in the clashes in Kyiv, with more than a 100 injured.

The Kyiv Post reported: "Dr. Olga Bogomolets, a physician, told the Kyiv Post at 3:30 p.m. today that three protesters had been shot to death while dozens more were injured, including many with serious wounds."

The Associated Press cited a lawmaker from an opposition party and a coordinator from the protesters' medic team with the same number: three dead protesters.

Kyiv's Emergencies Ministry reported a fourth death — an employee of the pro-President Viktor Yanukovych Party of Regions.

UPDATE: 2/18/14 10:00 AM ET

Protests in Kyiv turn bloody

Agence France-Presse — Protesters clashed with police near Ukraine's parliament Tuesday as they sought to force lawmakers to strip embattled President Viktor Yanukovych of a raft of powers, in the latest bid to break months of political deadlock.

Police fired rubber bullets and hurled smoke bombs at protesters who threw stones and set two trucks on fire as they tried to break through heavily fortified police cordons around the parliament building, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Ukraine's interior ministry said in a statement that three servicemen were injured after protesters directed a truck through the police ranks.

Some 20,000 mainly peaceful demonstrators massed outside parliament — where Yanukovych's party has the biggest presence — to try to push lawmakers to vote on returning the country to its 2004 constitution, under which key powers would shift from the president to parliament.

The demonstrators had marched from Kyiv's iconic Independence Square, where the opposition remains firmly entrenched in a sprawling tent city after nearly three months of protests against Yanukovych's rule.

Opposition leaders had earlier said that they were planning a "peaceful offensive" on parliament to put the squeeze on lawmakers.

"We hope that the deputies from the majority will recognize what they have to do and allow a vote on constitutional change," Oleg Tyagnybok, nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party leader told journalists at the head of one of the protest columns.

A planned session of parliament failed to start on time as lawmakers from Yanukovych's party blamed opposition leaders for refusing to negotiate with them and taking to the streets instead.

Opposition seeks EU sanctions

Before the latest outbreak of violence on Tuesday, Ukraine appeared to be inching towards resolving its worst post-Soviet crisis that was sparked by Yanukovych's decision in November to reject an EU pact in favor of closer ties with Russia.

The pro-EU, anti-government protests have since snowballed into a titanic tug of war for Ukraine's future between Russia and the West.

On Monday the government granted an amnesty to those arrested in the protests after the opposition vacated Kyiv's city hall and other administrative buildings it had been occupying.

Also on Monday, opposition leader and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, urging her to slap sanctions on Yanukovych and his financial backers in a bid to ratchet up pressure on the embattled leader.

More from GlobalPost: Ukraine opposition leaders visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel after amnesty victory

During the meeting, which was also attended by opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Klitschko asked Merkel for "financial assistance to overcome the crisis" in the beleaguered nation.

Merkel stressed that Germany and the EU would do everything to contribute towards a "positive outcome" to the turmoil, spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement, and called for lawmakers to push on with reforms.

The talks in Berlin came as Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov vowed to release "this week" a $2 billion tranche of a $15 billion bailout package to Ukraine that Moscow had essentially frozen after the protests turned deadly last month.

So far only $3 billion of the bailout has been transferred to Ukraine's economy, which is struggling to recover from a recession and is being badly hit by capital flight and currency devaluation during its prolonged crisis.

In a concession to the protesters, Yanukovych has dismissed his unpopular government, but he has yet to appoint a new one and the opposition wants its members to be placed in key positions.

On Monday a presidential aide said Yanukovych was consulting "experts" on the nomination of a new prime minister and would take a decision in "the near future".

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