'Almost-Medieval Melee' Claims 70 Lives in Kiev
Short-lived Ukraine truce comes to violent end, with death toll climbing
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2014 4:20 AM CST
Updated Feb 20, 2014 10:32 AM CST
An anti-government protester holding a tire is silhouetted against flames during a clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square.   (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
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(Newser) – The truce was as short-lived as you can get, with fierce clashes between police and protesters breaking out in Kiev just hours after it was announced. Reports say firearms are being used by both sides in the battle over Independence Square, marking a "new and ominous phase," reports the New York Times. Fighting resumed just after daybreak today, when ski mask-clad men began an advance on the riot police who had taken the square on Tuesday. By around 10am, protesters had reclaimed the whole square, but at a cost: bodies were seen lined up on a sidewalk as the sound of gunfire echoed, and the AP's current death count for the day sits at 70 (that number comes via a medic with the opposition, and the AP notes it has not been verified). The AP describes the scene as an "almost-medieval melee." Other developments:

  • In one protester's telling, the ski mask-clad men decided to rush the square because they believed the truce to be a stalling technique that would grant President Viktor Yanukovich enough time to send in more troops.
  • On that front, the Times has this: "It was not clear how the military could be legally deployed for what would be a domestic policing mission unless the authorities first declared a state of emergency, a step that Mr. Yanukovich has previously shied away from and for which the military has shown no enthusiasm."
  • Further, the US has been "warning against" imposing such a state for months now. But American officials' attempts to connect with top Ukrainian military officials have been fruitless in recent days. "Nobody is picking up" the phone, says a State Department official.
  • Protesters have reportedly captured 67 policemen, per the country's interior ministry. The AP reports the officers were seen being led through the protest camp with their hands held high; an opposition lawmaker says they are being held in Kiev's occupied city hall.
  • An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters; video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
  • The BBC reports the White House has this morning issued a statement, which reads in part: "We urge President Yanukovich to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kiev and to respect the right of peaceful protest, and we urge protesters to express themselves peacefully. We urge the Ukrainian military not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means."