At least two activists were shot dead yesterday as Ukrainian police stormed protesters’ barricades in Kiev, the first fatalities in two months of anti-government protests.
Pitched battles raged in the center of the Ukrainian capital as protesters hurled stones at police and the security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The bloody clashes marked a new peak in tensions after two months of protests over the government’s failure to sign a deal for closer integration with the EU under Russian pressure.
The epicenter of the clashes was Grushevsky Street, which has been the scene of three days of clashes between thousands of protesters and similar numbers of security forces. The air was filled with the rancid black smoke from tires burned by protesters, as well as the stench of tear gas used by the police.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych yesterday met with opposition leaders, including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, but it was unclear if the talks would have any result.
The opposition leaders appeared unable to have any influence on the hard core of radical protesters and stopped short of supporting their actions.
Yanukovych earlier urged protesters not to follow “political radicals” and expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the clashes.
Showing no mood for compromise, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov labeled the radical protesters behind the clashes as “terrorists.”
The clashes came after police launched a fresh assault on protesters in central Kiev, driving into their lines using tear gas and stun grenades. The protesters fought back in intense clashes, with casualties seen being loaded into ambulances.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton urged “an immediate end” to the violence.