The chaos in Kiev entered its second day Wednesday amid an escalation in clashes between protesters and riot police that led to at least 26 deaths in the Ukrainian capital.
The “Euromaidan” protests started in November, when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade deal forging closer ties between Ukraine and Europe. Protesters were angered about the government signaling closer relations with Russia, which has given bailout money to Ukraine. The clashes reignited on Tuesday as riot police attempted to clear out Independence Square in Kiev.
Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at riot police, who responded by using water cannons and stun grenades to quell the situation. The clashes led to 26 deaths through Wednesday in what Reuters called the worst violence in Ukraine since the country gained independence from the former Soviet Union. Buildings around Independence Square, the main site of "Euromaidan" protests, were on fire, including the trade union building that acted as protesters’ headquarters, Reuters reported.
Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the "Euromaidan" protests amounted to an attempted coup. Yanukovych said he held back from using force against the protesters but was left no choice due to the protesters’ behavior.
"Without any mandate from the people, illegally and in breach of the constitution of Ukraine, these politicians -- if I may use that term -- have resorted to pogroms, arson and murder to try to seize power," he said.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said the violence was the work of radical activists.
"I cannot leave without mention the responsibility that lies with the West encouraging the opposition to act outside of the law,” he said, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the European Union threatened to sanction the Ukrainian government over the use of force. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeirer, said the Ukrainian government should take the threats seriously.
“Whoever is responsible for the decisions which have led to the bloodshed in Kiev and other parts of Ukraine should expect Europe to reconsider its position on imposing sanctions on individuals,” he said, according to the New York Times.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Yanukovych and expressed “grave concern” over the situation in Kiev and other areas of Ukraine. He suggested the government “exercise maximum restraint” in dealing with the protesters.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the violence won't solve the divisiveness in Ukraine over the direction of the country.
“We call on President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government to de-escalate the situation immediately, and resume dialogue with the opposition on a peaceful path forward. Ukraine’s deep divisions will not be healed by spilling more innocent blood,” Kerry said.