EU’s foreign ministers have unanimously decided to impose sanctions against officials in the Ukraine who are held responsible for the violence there, which yesterday saw dozens apparently killed by government snipers in Kiev and many more injured.
The deaths came in a new eruption of violence just hours after the country’s embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine’s crisis.
At least 70 died and hundreds were wounded according to an unconfirmed report from a protest doctor.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes yesterday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or planks of wood.
One of the wounded, volunteer medic Olesya Zhukovskaya, sent out a brief Twitter message - “I’m dying” – after being shot in the neck. Dr Oleh Musiy, the medical coordinator for the protesters, said she was in serious condition after being operated on.
As heavy smoke from burning barricades rose into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries – Germany, France and Poland – met President Viktor Yanukovych, after first meeting opposition leaders.
The Government and protesters are locked in a decades-long battle over the identity of the nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are sharply divided between Russia and the West. Roughly one in six Ukranians are ethnic Russians and the country is split between Russian-speaking states in the East, where many are still nostalgic for the era when the country was a Soviet satellite, and the Ukranian speaking West, which sees itself as part of Europe.
Parts of the country – mostly in its western cities – are in open revolt against President Yanukovych’s government after he shunned closer ties with the EU and tried to bind the country more closely to Russia.
Neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Mr Yanukovych’s resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
The latest bout of street violence began on Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Mr Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit his power – a key opposition demand.
Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a cathedral so that wounded colleagues would not be snatched by police at hospitals, say the numbers of injured are possibly double or triple the official figure of 287.
The parliament building was evacuated because of fears protesters were preparing to storm it.
President Barack Obama stepped in to condemn the violence, warning “there will be consequences” for Ukraine. The US has raised the prospect of joining with the EU to impose sanctions against Ukraine.
A diplomat said the sanctions EU ministers approved yesterday include a travel ban to the 28-nation bloc and freezing the officials’ assets in the EU countries.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, compared the protesters to Nazis, ominously echoing claims by the President that the protesters are all terrorists, and pledged to use “all our influence to restore peace and calm”.