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Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 12:30pm

Kiev Is 'A War Zone' As Chaos Continues In Ukraine

Updated: 9 months ago.
Riot police officers stand in Kiev's Independence Square on Wednesday as smoke rises from protesters' burning barricades.
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This post was updated at 4:15 p.m.

The center of Kiev looks like a war zone today after Tuesday's violence resulted in more than two dozen deaths, leading the international community to call for restraint.

Streets and squares in Ukraine's capital littered with rocks, bricks, spent stun grenades and tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and burning tires, the BBC's David Stern said Wednesday on Morning Edition.

The debris is what's been left behind after Tuesday's deadly clashes between police and some of the thousands of anti-government protesters. Swept away from the scene to overflowing hospitals and morgues: at least 25 people who were killed yesterday and an additional 241 who were injured, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, according to Stern, the two sides appear to be "digging in even deeper."

Maria Danilova, a reporter for The Associated Press in Kiev, told NPR's Audie Cornish that radical protesters confronted police Wednesday while more moderate protesters rallied, listened to speakers as well as to music. But, she said, she also saw young girls prepare Molotov cocktails and elderly women making stones and rocks to throw at the police.

Kiev residents, Danilova said, were bringing food and medicine to the protesters.

"We're seeing an organized effort to keep up this protest," she said on Wednesday's All Things Considered.

President Viktor Yanukovych is blaming opposition leaders for the deadly violence, saying that they "crossed a line when they called people to arms." He also accused them of trying "to seize power by resorting to pogroms, arsons and murders."

One of the opposition leaders, former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who on Tuesday vowed that he and other protesters "will not go anywhere," went to the president's office shortly before midnight. According to the AP:

"Klitschko returned to the square early Wednesday without reaching any agreement on ending the violence. Klitschko told reporters that he had asked the president to stop the police action to clear the square and prevent further deaths, but Yanukovych's only proposal was that the demonstrators have to go home and stop the protests."

The clashes continue. As morning turned to afternoon Wednesday in Kiev, "several thousand riot police were still trying to storm the burning barricades of the protesters' tent camp in Independence Square," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Police shot tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at the protesters, who responded in kind by hurling cobblestones and Molotov cocktails at police. Police also used powerful water cannons, aiming them at protesters on top of barricades. Both sides accused the other of using live ammunition."

As we wrote Tuesday, "at issue is Ukraine's future direction. Late last year, Yanukovych rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, leading to protests against his government." Protests began soon after that.

On Morning Edition, the BBC's Stern said the protesters' complaints now extend well beyond the rejected trade deal. "They want a new system," he said, and see the "whole [government] structure as rotten and corrupt. ... The EU has provided a symbol for the direction that these protesters want to go."

There are fears, Stern added, of civil war. Protests have spread to other cities. "We're not at that point yet," he said, but "it is a divided country."

The AP's Danilova added:

At this point, what the protesters are asking for is for Yanukovych to resign and to hold new parliamentary and presidential election. The opposition leaders in this protest have also been talking about a constitutional reform that would decrease presidential powers and put more powers in the hands of parliament as a way out of this crisis. [Yanukovych], however, is determined to fight to the end."

The international community continues to weigh in. President Obama, speaking in Mexico, warned of "consequences" for Ukraine if the violence doesn't stop.

The AP adds:

"In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden expressed his 'grave concern' in a telephone call to Yanukovych, urging him to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint. The White House said Biden also called on Ukraine's government to address the protesters' 'legitimate grievances' and put forward proposals for political reform.

"Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged both sides to end the violence, halt their ultimatums and hold high-level talks."

Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Lukashevich, meanwhile, has condemned what he sees as U.S. interference in Ukraine's affairs.

Foreign ministers from the EU nations met Thursday in Brussels and will consider sanctions that could include "travel bans targeting the Ukrainian leadership and asset freezes," the AP says.

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