US Secretary of State John Kerry has hit out at Ukrainian security forces, demanding that violence meted out against demonstrators “must stop” amid scenes of “senseless death” in Kiev.
The remarks, in a statement from the State Department on Thursday, said the United States “unequivocally condemns the use of force against civilians by security forces, and urge that those forces be withdrawn immediately.”
The demand from Kerry came shortly after US Vice President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych that America is ready to impose sanctions on officials guilty of ordering troops to fire on protesters.
“It’s with anger and anguish that we have watched renewed violence on the streets of Kiev today destroy more lives and rip apart more families,” Kerry’s statement said.
“The people of Ukraine deserve far better than senseless death and suffering on the streets of one of Europe’s great cities. There is no time for brinksmanship or gamesmanship.
During the riots, police have fired live rounds at protesters in an explosion of violence in Kiev that has left more than 100 people dead.
Bullet-riddled bodies were scattered amid smouldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails forced gun-toting police from the capital’s Independence Square – the epicentre of the increasingly bloody revolt against President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian rule.
Opposition medics said more than 60 protesters had been shot dead by police on Thursday alone with reports this morning that more than 100 had been killed. Kiev authorities put the total toll from three days of violence at 67.
Both sides accused each other of using snipers in a major escalation of the crisis sparked by Yanukovych’s rejection in November of an EU pact in favour of close ties with Moscow.
Three European Union foreign ministers held talks with the president and opposition leaders in Kiev to discuss a way out of the turmoil.
US weighs in
The White House, meanwhile, said it was “outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people”.
Faced with international outrage, Ukraine’s interior ministry said it reserved the right to use live munition “in self-defence”.
The ministry also accused “extremists” of seizing 67 of its troops at gunpoint and holding them hostage in one of buildings near the war-scarred square.
The shocking scale of bloodshed in a strategic nation that serves as a brittle diplomatic bridge between Russia and the West, has prompted EU officials to slap travel bans against Ukrainians responsible for ordering the use of force.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said an agreement was also reached at an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to impose asset freezes on Ukrainians with “blood on their hands”.
The United States has already put 20 top Ukrainian officials on a visa blacklist.
Ukraine’s former master Russia blasted the sanctions as “bullying” and said President Vladimir Putin was sending a representative to Kiev to act as a mediator in talks with the opposition.
The EU meanwhile pressed on with a diplomatic push to find a way out of the crisis, with one Western source saying they were encouraging Yanukovych to agree to a peace plan that would see the opposition enter the government with new powers.
A 21-year-old volunteer medic who tweeted “I am dying” after she was reportedly shot in the neck during the protests has sparked an outpouring of sadness online.
— Olesya Zhukovskaya (@OlesyaZhukovska) February 20, 2014
Olesya Zhukovska posted the words in Ukrainian on her Twitter feed and Facebook-like VKontakte account on Thursday afternoon, adding fuel to an already emotionally-charged situation after fierce clashes between protesters and riot police on Kiev’s central Independence Square claimed dozens of lives.
But to the relief of countless netizens, the young volunteer survived her wounds.
— Vitalii Sediuk (@VitaliiSediuk) February 20, 2014
Euromaidan, as the three-month protest movement aimed at ousting President Viktor Yanukovych is called, later announced that Zhukovska was in a serious condition, but alive.
“Everything will be fine with you! I am praying for you! Ukraine is praying for you!” netizen Anastasiya Sosnovaya said.
— Kety Shapazian (@KetyDC) February 20, 2014
Adding to the drama of the event, Zhukovska had appealed to Ukrainians and others to come to Kiev “urgently” an hour or so before being injured.
“We need your support. The killings started this morning and will continue until tonight,” she posted on Twitter.