Fearing that a call for truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine’s embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 70 dead and hundreds injured, according to a protest doctor.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.
Protesters were also seen leading policemen with their hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev. Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. It was not clear how they were taken. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev’s occupied city hall.
At least 99 people have died this week in the clashes in Kiev, a sharp reversal in three months of mostly peaceful protests. Now neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych’s resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
Thursday was the deadliest day yet at the sprawling protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square, also called the Maidan. An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
Dr Oleh Musiy, the top medical coordinator for the protesters, told the AP that at least 70 protesters were killed Thursday and over 500 injured. He said the death toll from the day’s clashes could well rise further. There was no way to immediately verify his statement.
The Interior Ministry warned Kiev residents to stay indoors Thursday due to the “armed, aggressive mood of people”.
Yanukovych claimed Thursday that police were not armed and “all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken”. But the Interior Ministry later contradicted that, saying law enforcers would get weapons as part of an “anti-terrorist” operation.