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Ear to the Ground

Ukraine Crisis Intensifies as Death Toll Rises, EU Imposes Sanctions

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Posted on Feb 20, 2014

  Activists pay respects to protesters killed in clashes with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square on Thursday. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The relative calm that was achieved in Ukraine earlier this week was a distant memory by Thursday, as clashes between protesters and police claimed at least 22 lives by day’s end, according to the BBC.

All but one of those reported killed in the ongoing unrest were demonstrators rallying to hold parliament to an agreement formed Monday, and then abandoned, that would have diminished Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s powers. Violence broke out Tuesday when government forces attacked an opposition stronghold in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Protesters reportedly had captured and detained police as well—as many as 67, according to government sources, who also claimed that one officer had been killed. Many of the deaths on the opposition side were linked to snipers firing on people attempting to return to the encampment at Maidan (Independence Square).

By Thursday evening, EU leaders had taken action to curb the violence by imposing sanctions on officials seen as contributing to the escalating crisis (via BBC):

“No circumstances can justify the repression we are currently witnessing,” the statement from EU foreign ministers said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the “prime responsibility” to get talks between the two sides under way lay with President Viktor Yanukovych.

Speaking after an emergency meeting of EU foreign minsters in Brussels, she said ministers had expressed their “dismay” at the latest violence and had agreed to “suspend export licences for equipment for internal repression”.

Implementation of the measures “will be taken forward in light of developments in Ukraine”, she added.

The EU has until now refrained from imposing sanctions on Ukraine, preferring to emphasise dialogue and compromise.

The US state department had already announced visa bans on 20 members of the Ukrainian government but has not provided any names.

Read the text of the Council of the European Union’s conclusions on the current state of the Ukrainian situation here.

Meanwhile, Vice UK’s news editor, Henry Langston, witnessed some of the bloodshed and gave his take from Kiev on Thursday, reporting that local hotels were being used as morgues as the body count multiplied and medics struggled to treat the badly wounded (but be advised: linked article contains graphic imagery):

I am currently outside Hotel Ukraine on Instytutska Street [next to Independence Square] and there is a sniper firing potshots. [Sound of a gunshot] Yup, that was another one. There are some barricades near the hotel, and there is only a couple of protesters on them—I think they’re basically pinned down. The hotel itself is basically like a makeshift triage center and a morgue right now. Medics here have counted 15 dead, who they think have been shot by snipers.

In the lobby of the hotel you’ve got the wounded being assessed and rushed to hospital and a row of dead bodies lined up, covered in shrouds. When the wounded started coming into the hospital, the doctors who happened to be staying there couldn’t treat them, had no equipment to deal with serious bleeding.

The impasse between Yanukovych and his opponents sparked in late November, when he stopped short of finalizing an agreement with the European Union in favor of strengthening ties with Russia—and specifically, Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin, further underscoring divisions in loyalties between Putin’s regime in Moscow and counterparts in the EU and Washington, continued to support Yanukovych throughout the latest developments in Kiev.

The BBC put together a relatively brief but comprehensive primer on the most current chapters in the Ukrainian uprising—read up on that recent history here.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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