Tensions Run High in Kiev as Protestors’ Ultimatum Approaches

Western leaders also increase pressure on government after two confirmed deaths

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Etienne De Malglaive / Getty Images

Protestors clash with riot police on the streets of Hrushevskoho after two protesters were confirmed dead after three consecutive nights of clashes on January 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.

After a rapid and violent turn in the standoff between police and protesters in Kiev, opposition leaders Wednesday evening demanded that Ukrainian President Yanukovych call new elections and scrap harsh anti-protest legislation within 24 hours.

Speaking in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, opposition politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that if Yanukovich didn’t meet their demands, “Tomorrow we will go forward together. And if it’s a bullet in the forehead, then it’s a bullet in the forehead.”

For thousands of protestors, Wednesday began with text messages from the government reading: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” Police then began tearing down the protesters’ barricades.

Two men were killed when security force opened fire, becoming the first fatalities during the demonstrations, which were launched in November to protest Yanukovych’s U-turn on a trade deal with the E.U.

Opposition figures claim three more people have died, one reportedly after being kidnapped from a hospital, where he was being treated for wounds suffered in a clash with police. Protestors have responded by throwing Molotov cocktails at police, and the Interior Ministry says that dozens of officers have been hospitalized, some with serious injuries. Russia Today also posted a video of what it said was a trebuchet catapult made by protestors for lobbing rocks at police.

Activists have set up a live stream of the disturbances:

[ustream id=16573315 live=1 hwaccel=1 version=3 width=480 height=302]

Meanwhile, Western leaders have expressed their displeasure at the Ukrainian government’s role in the disturbances, rescinding an invitation to Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to address a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.

The European Union is considering sending two of its most senior officials to Ukraine over the coming week, in an attempt to pressure the government. E.U. enlargement chief Stefan Füle is planning a visit to the capital on Friday and its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton may travel there after a trip to Latvia next week. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, an outspoken critic of Ukrainian authorities, said on Monday that it may soon be time for foreign ministers to consider sanctions against Ukraine.

Analysts have debated the opposition leaders’ influence over a protest movement with increasingly unruly elements. On Thursday morning, thousands of demonstrators were gathered on the street where the most recent wave of conflict started on January 19, apparently not heeding the calls for a 24-hour truce. Instead, they were constructing new barricades, stoking fires, piling up stones or throwing them at the police.

[WSJ, AP, Financial Times, BuzzFeed, Kiyv Post, NYT]