Tuesday evening marked the deadliest day of the ongoing protests, as government forces stormed a protest camp in the capital.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych blamed his political opposition for the ongoing unrest, which followed failed negotiations overnight between the two sides. Ukraine, a country largely split in its identity as a European nation and a former Russian power, has been roiled by violence since late last year. Public outrage followed Yanukovych’s refusal to sign new economic accords with the European Union, opting instead for a multibillion dollar bailout from the Russian government to stem its floundering government.Western powers blasted the latest deadly violence there, as the local government shut down the subway in Kiev and restricted road access. Bands of roving young men, called “tituskhy,” are reportedly committing random acts of violence and attacking journalists and protesters.
The European Union and its 28 participating nations will consider formal sanctions against Ukraine.
Catherine Ashton, a high representative of the EU, says the situation in Ukraine represents a “tragic deterioration” and calls on both sides to immediately to cease violence, according to a statement.
EU President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed “shock and utter dismay” at the latest violence.
“There are no circumstances that can legitimize or justify such scenes,” he said in a release.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the use of violence as a way to solve a political and institutional crisis,” Barroso said. “We call on all sides to immediately put an end to the violence and engage into a meaningful dialogue, responding to the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.”
He called for constitutional reforms and a return to the political protest to solve the crisis.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Yanukovych by phone on Tuesday to express “grave concerns regarding the crisis,” according to a readout of their conversation. The U.S. calls on both sides to help de-escalate the violence, he said, adding the Ukrainian government “bears special responsibility.”
Biden pressured the president to continue dialogue with the protesters to address their “legitimate grievances and put forward serious proposals for political reform.”
“Ukraine’s deep divisions will not be healed by spilling more innocent blood,” said Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, Tuesday.
The protests in Ukraine began peacefully at the end of November when millions of citizens poured into Kiev to express their support for new accords that would strengthen Ukraine’s political and free-trade relationship with the EU. Some skirmishes began in clashes with police as police used riot control gear such as tear gas to control crowds gathering outside Yanukovych’s office.
The violence has subsequently escalated as protesters erected massive barricades in recent months in the downtown area made of debris and snow, and threw Molotov cocktails at security forces.
The State Department issued a travel warning late Monday alerting U.S. citizens to the growing unrest and public clashes, citing specifically threats from the Ukrainian Security Services that it might “take extraordinary measures” beginning Tuesday night. It encourages Americans to maintain a low profile and stay inside.
“The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly. Further violent clashes between police and protesters in Kyiv and other cities are possible,” the warning states. “The location and nature of demonstrations and methods employed by the police can change quickly and without warning.”
These unconfirmed tweets show some of the reported violence and smoldering aftermath of Monday’s clashes:
El que crea que se puede jugar al fútbol en Kiev no vive en el mundo real pic.twitter.com/i3rpjXzKTY— Miguel Venegas (@MigVenegas) February 19, 2014
Het centrum van Kiev. Doet een beetje aan Sarajevo denken pic.twitter.com/QWdrcq7mI0— Olaf Koens (@obk) February 19, 2014