A vicious crackdown by Ukrainian authorities on thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators inside Kiev’s Independence Square has left at least 25 dead and hundreds more injured.
Ukraine political crisis is also a major distraction for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is hosting the Sochi Olympic Games.
Police reportedly used rubber bullets, stun grenades, batons and water cannons on the thousands of hardcore protesters who have occupied a tent camp in the square since the situation began in late November.
The pro-European Union protesters, christened Euromaidan, have skillfully used social media to organize themselves, beaming their message and movements around the world on their smartphones.
Towers of burning tires were being used by the protesters as a protective smokescreen to keep the police back as protesters sang the Ukrainian national anthem and the violent unrest could be seen unfolding on Euromaidan’s web cameras.
Orthodox priests were reportedly praying for peace alongside the protests.
“We see that this regime again has begun shooting people; they want to sink Ukraine in blood. We will not give in to a single provocation,” opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the protesters, reports the Associated Press.
“We will not take one step back from this square. We have nowhere to retreat to. Ukraine is behind us, Ukraine’s future is behind us.”
The crisis originally ignited after President Viktor Yanukovych surprised his nation on Nov. 21 and suddenly refused an economic agreement with the European Union, turning instead toward greater trade ties with Russia. Putin had offered Yanukovych a $15-billion loan and cheaper fuel — Ukraine relies on Russia for oil and natural gas — if Ukraine pivoted to Moscow.
While Russia had recently held up the loan payment, on Monday officials announced part of the money would start flowing to cash-strapped Ukraine.
On Tuesday, EU and other world leaders attempted to contact Yanukovych but he could not be reached.
However, late Tuesday opposition leader and former pro-boxer Vitali Klitschko was said to be in emergency talks with Yanukovych.
But as blood spilled on the streets of Kiev, many agreed the time to talk was over and that the violence would not stop until Yanukovych resigned.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the violence was “shocking” as demonstrators fleeing the police crackdown took refuge in the Canadian embassy in Kiev.
Baird visited Euromaidan supporters when he was in Kiev on Dec. 5.
“No act of violence or repression today will go unnoticed by the government of Canada, and we will work with our allies in the international community to ensure that those responsible will be held to account,” Baird said in a release.
Baird’s office would not release any further details on what Canada is considering.
The protesters who entered the reception area of the Canadian embassy are peaceful and have not caused any harm, according to Adam Hodge, Baird’s press secretary.
“We hope that the situation improves quickly so that they can safely leave the embassy premises at the earliest possible opportunity. We expect these individuals to be able to leave the embassy safely, free from intimidation, arrest or further harassment,” Hodge said.
The violence started after Ukrainian parliament refused to hear a motion that would change the constitution and reduce Yanukovych’s powers back to 2004 levels, explained Paul Grod, president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress.
There are more than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent living in Canada.
“The responsibility for these deaths and the escalation of tension, the brutal violence sits squarely on Yanukovych. The protesters are not moving,” Grod said before the UCC took part in a supportive rally downtown Toronto at the Ukrainian consulate.
“I spoke to a Canadian expat living in Ukraine earlier and she witnessed the crackdown in front of the parliament. She stood with other women, mothers . . . she witnessed a woman being shot in the face with a rubber bullet. . . . Grod said they are concerned about the gangs of roving, young, armed, masked thugs called “titushkis” that, he charges, are working for the government, trying to inflame ethnic and religious tensions.
“This is a typical ploy used by the Russians,” he said.
Grod met with Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett on Tuesday at a roundtable talk to discuss Ukraine, the presence of the titushkis and fears of human rights abuses taking place outside the view of webcams or the press.
Ukrainian opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov was kidnapped, nailed to a cross and severely tortured for days in late January.
Others have been kidnapped from their hospital beds and tortured.
Grod wants to see the creation of an international monitoring group that could gather information on abuse.
Source: The Toronto Star