Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is disgusted with the Ukrainian president's violent response to ongoing and largely peaceful protests in the eastern European nation.
Kerry issued a statement late Tuesday night following reports that Ukranian authorities used extreme measures to quell the activists demonstrating in capital city Kiev.
The U.S. has put the Ukrainian government "on notice" over its reaction to the protests in recent weeks.
"The United States expresses disgust with the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in [Kiev's] Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers and batons, rather than respect for democratic rights and human dignity," said Kerry. "This response is neither acceptable nor does it benefit democracy."
Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, and stressed the importance of respecting the freedom to assemble, which Kerry said is not just an American value but a universal one.
Protests began in November over the government's reluctance to strengthen its relationship with the European Union. Activists now demand the resignation of the government in the ongoing crisis.
Riot police clashed with protesters in the early morning hours local time Wednesday, reports The Associated Press. Unlike recent protests, it appeared the police had been told to exercise restraint in violent response. Some protesters were knocked down, but police helped them to their feet and moved them elsewhere.
The Ukrainian police chief said in a statement he would not order his forces to break up the protests.
At least 10 people were arrested in the latest protests, according Ukrainian English-language newspaper Kyiv Post. Reporters from the paper witnessed police beating protesters with clubs. By dawn there were 2,000 protesters outside the city hall shouting, "Shame!"
"We call for utmost restraint," said Kerry. "Human life must be protected. Ukrainian authorities bear full responsibility for the security of the Ukrainian people. As church bells ring tonight amidst the smoke in the streets of [Kiev], the United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better."