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Kiev frontlines spread as talks continue

Calm returns to the capital's bloody streets amid conflicting reports of an agreement to end the crisis.

Last updated: 21 Feb 2014 11:49
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Protesters help a wounded man amid violence that claimed at least 75 lives Thursday [Kristina Jovanovski/Al Jazeera]

Kiev, Ukraine - The frontlines are spreading in Ukraine’s political crisis as negotiations were expected to continue Friday. In the morning, tires that can be used to create a smokescreen were piled up on a fresh barricade further into a quiet road intersecting the opposition-held protest zone.

The government reported early Friday that an agreement on resolving the crisis had been reached at all-night talks, however, Germany's Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that negotiators had taken a break "to continue talks later on".
 

The shooting started and it was just indiscriminate. You had snipers shooting people in the head, we had bodies of people, just pools of blood.

- Sviatoslav Yurash, head of public relations for the activist group Euromaidan

Failed truce leads to violence

But on Thursday, chaos filled central Kiev after a failed truce led to violence that raised the death toll to at least 75.
 
"The shooting started and it was just indiscriminate. You had snipers shooting people in the head, we had bodies of people, just pools of blood," Sviatoslav Yurash, who heads public relations for the activist group Euromaidan, told Al Jazeera. Yurash said that Thursday morning, the police started attacking areas where protesters had been camped out and sleeping.

Activists did achieve one victory though - the European Union imposed sanctions on Ukrainian officials, a long-held demand by protesters.
 
Demonstrations began in November after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich chose closer ties with Russia over a trade agreement with the European Union. However, what started as a pro-EU demonstration has grown into an anti-government movement demanding constitutional reform and early elections.
 
Mere survival though was on the minds of many protesters Thursday afternoon on Kiev’s main street leading up to Independence Square, or "Maidan" to Ukrainians.
 
A man bleeding from his head was wheeled down the opposition-held section of the road. Protesters and journalists surrounded the man after he lost consciousness.
 
Earlier, demonstrators escorted a line of policeman to a protesters' tent. A priest accompanied them, holding a cross in one hand and the arm of an officer on the other. Ambulances raced down the road, which was mostly free of cars in the last week. Shops and restaurants that were open on Wednesday had shut down.
 
Protesters readying for next round

Next to a fresh barricade is a new medical centre in a building for the government radio and television committee. Steps away is city hall which protesters once again occupied after they had returned the building to the government in an amnesty deal on Sunday.
 
The bustling first floor of the building houses donations of clothing, food and supplies for protesters. Volunteers in two adjoining rooms unpack medical supplies. On a shelf next to a wall sits piles of pink toilet paper, Q-tips and bottles of medicine to treat infections. In another room, demonstrators grab snacks from tables filled with sandwiches and bread.
 

Six chandeliers, Christmas ornaments and twenty-two columns decorate the room on the second floor where first aid and a place to rest is offered.
 
On one side of the room, a man with a bloody ear is being treated while on the other, about forty people are trying to rest on burgundy-coloured carpets. One man is sleeping next to a motorcycle helmet with a visor, gloves and kneepads.
 
Fifty-year-old Alex Kvitchatij sits near him. During the crisis, he has gone back and forth ten times to Kiev from his farm where he grows corn and soybeans. Kvitchatij came back to join his two sons on Wednesday morning and said the fighting he saw Thursday was the most dangerous.
 
However, he says, he is committed to changing the country’s future. He says he wants to "start [a] new Ukraine, new life, new system, new politics. I think today’s government and today’s power is criminal… [Yanukovich] must go out a long time ago but he stayed and we have lots of problems."
 
He says it is very seldom that protesters have weapons but he has seen a few with guns.
 
"It’s very young [men], it’s not possible to control them."
 
The Right Sector, a militant opposition group, is often at the frontlines and guarding barricades. After their old building burned down, their headquarters have moved slightly further away from the square.
 
Two men guard the entrance while twenty-five men, many in protective gear and some holding bats, mill around outside.
 
When one young member of the group is asked for an interview, he goes into the building to bring out an older man wearing a scarf covering half his face. A small circle of members form around him.
 
When Al Jazeera asks why he wants to be here, he turns to a colleague and asks in Ukrainian what has the commander said and is told that he is not talking to journalists. The man turns back and says "sorry no comments" and refuses to say anything else.
 
Asked again why he is here, another member says, "because we love our country." A young man in the circle states in broken English, "for me, prepared to fight," then someone else interjects, "no no no, we love our country."
 
Extremism claims rejected

Yanukovich has blamed radicals in the opposition for sparking the fresh wave of violence that started Tuesday.
 
Protesters, like the Euromaidan spokesman Yurash, strongly deny that claim.
 
On the steps of city hall, he points to the people around him.
 
"Look at that girl, she’s no more than 18. Please look at the medics there, look at the people coming here, look at these students. Please look at the old grannies that are right now helping to get the cobblestone from the ground," he says.
 
"This is no radical extremist; this is Ukrainian people standing up for their right to live in a country which they rule."
 
Other protesters say they have been forced to defend themselves from the government’s attacks.
 
"I think war and fighting, it’s not good but if I must protect myself and protect my wife, my daughter I… must do it," says Pavel Chinenkov, 36, who works as a journalist and has a two-year-old daughter.
 
"People are not stronger… than rifles, shields or weapons but we’re strong [with] our will."
 
Calm had settled on the streets overnight with demonstrators freely coming in and out of the square while prayers from speakers could be heard throughout the protest zone.
 
Tatyana Stepanenko, who is from Kiev and was handing out food to fellow protesters Thursday evening, says the economic situation in her country is dire and people are fighting for a better way of life.
 
"Lots of people go abroad, just want to leave Ukraine… we want the European standards."

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