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A Fragile Truce Has Broken Out in Ukraine

Bloodshed in Kiev continued as a ceasefire between protesters and police erupted into a mess of live rounds and petrol bombs.

by Henry Langston
Feb 21 2014, 3:15pm

Photo by Henry Langston

Update – Saturday morning, VICE is reporting that protesters have taken control of the Parliament building, with MPs inside discussing the possibility of impeaching President Yanukovych. Protesters are in control of Kiev, with police abandoning their positions and there's speculation about where the President is, as he is believed to have fled Kiev for somewhere less hostile.

The crisis in Ukraine is moving fast. Thursday set another new record for the amount of bloodshed during the crisis, as a ceasefire between protesters and police erupted into a mess of live rounds and petrol bombs. There were reports of more shooting today, but talks between opposition leaders and embattled president Viktor Yanukovych finally seem to be yielding results. The BBC is reporting this morning that Yanukovych has agreed to a deal that includes a concession to hold presidential elections early, before 2014 is out. Other terms of the deal include an agreement to form a coalition government and make changes to the constitution that would limit presidential powers.

However, EU officials have urged caution and noted that the talks are still ongoing. VICE UK’s News Editor Henry Langston is on the streets of Kiev observing this fragile truce.

Sniper strikes outside Zhovtnevyi Palace in Kiev

VICE News: Hi, Henry. The death toll seemed to go up throughout yesterday. What have you been seeing out there??
Henry Langston: Sadly, that's right. We’ve been out in the field but local media is now reporting at least 75 killed. And then there are thousands of injuries. From what we’ve seen, some of the injured have become fatalities given the nature of their wounds.

What have you been doing since we last spoke to you?
After we last spoke, Phil [Caller, VICE News] went back to the hotel to recharge our batteries and get some food. Then we headed out to St. Michael's Church, which is behind Independence Square. It had turned into a field hospital and there was a makeshift morgue, like in the Hotel Ukraine. Bodies were being transported there and kept in the gardens so that they could be identified by other protesters or paramedics.

I imagine that was fairly chaotic.
It was. Some of the protesters come to the square with their personal details written on a piece of paper and stuffed into their pockets – names of their families, address, telephone numbers and so on. So if something happens to them, people can contact their families. Unfortunately, not all the protesters have these details, so it takes longer to identify them. We spoke to a doctor who had been there since the morning, treating the wounded. He said that several people had died on his operating table. Early on they didn’t have the equipment to deal with the types of bleeding they were getting. But as the day went on, more and more people were bringing equipment and supplies and some of it was really high-spec equipment. Doctors weren’t asking where it was coming from but it allowed them to treat some of the seriously injured, until the wounded could be transported to the hospital.

Photo: Henry Langston

Did the fighting continue all day?
No, it stopped at about 3 PM Ukrainian time.

And then what? Another uneasy standoff?
Yes, and as of now the protesters are still holding all of the ground that they had lost the days before. This morning those barricades are looking a lot bigger than they were before. There is a constant supply of petrol bombs, food, water and bits and bobs to make the barricades stronger, as well as a bunch of guys at the barricades ready to defend the place.

The violence escalated again yesterday. How have people responded??
We were wandering through Independence Square and there was a group of women and a couple of blokes packing a massive water container — like the ones you get in offices — with broken bits of polystyrene and petrol. They'd put in a wick and make these huge Molotov cocktails. The polystyrene acts as a thickening agent, making it a lot like napalm. It would stick to skin and armor. That's certainly how they were explaining it to me. I'm not sure how’d they throw them, they would be quite light but anyway. They're the last things I would want to hit me, apart from a bullet, if I were a police officer.

Yeah, well, we had guys yesterday telling us that the police were making makeshift explosives — how they would wrap nails and screws around flashbangs [stun grenades]. The flashbang would blind and then shrapnel would find its way into protesters. People have been showing us nails and screws found in these IEDs. So you've got casual use of firearms on both sides and these crazy bombs.

So things have been pretty violent on both sides?
Yeah. We spoke to this doctor yesterday and he said he was operating on a boy who died on his table. A bullet had passed through his back and through one of his major organs. He had some contact details, so he called his mother who had said that he was paid by someone from the government to travel to Kiev. The doctor thought he might have been Titushki, one of the government's hired thugs, and for some reason was shot in the back. It raised questions about what firearms the protesters have because there have been police officers shot and killed but they are few and far between. However, they're not armed on the same level as the police, who have AK-47s and sniper rifles. From clips and photos I've seen, the protesters mainly seem to have a few hunting rifles, with the odd shotgun and the occasional pistol thrown in, too.

Raw Video Shows Kiev Carnage as Ceasefire Collapses. Watch Here.

Photo: Henry Langston