Deaths in Kiev underline scale of Ukrainian crisis


The overnight deaths of five protesters in Kiev, the first fatalities since the latest round of protests began in November, provide clear evidence, if such is required, of the determination of the Ukrainian authorities not to be deflected from their brutal crackdown on dissent. President Viktor Yanukovich has been facing down mass demonstrations over his rejection of closer links with the EU in favour of stronger ties to Moscow which offered him a $15 billion bailout.

Armed with a draconian array of new anti-protest powers, which came into force on Tuesday, the regime yesterday denounced protesters as “terrorists” while cynically insisting that its riot police have been showing “restraint”. To date, although only a small minority of the protesters have become involved in violent rioting, more than 1,400 protesters and 100 police have reported injuries. Two people whose bodies were found yesterday near the site of clashes were shot with live ammunition, prosecutors said, although the claim was vehemently denied by the government.

The new legislation and the police action on the streets have been condemned by the EU and US, with commission president José Manuel Barroso yesterday declaring there could now be unspecified action by the union against the Ukraine. Polish deputy prime minister Janusz Piechocinski warned that the continuing crisis is in danger of precipitating a massive wave of emigration into the EU and the Lithuanian presidency of the Union called for “targeted sanctions”. EU ministers must now follow up quickly with sanctions against individuals involved in the crackdown.

International markets also reacted to the prospect of continuing violence and instability by significantly pushing up bond yields and the cost of servicing the country’s crippling debts.

Yanukovich promised to meet leading figures of the opposition yesterday. Vitali Klitschko, who leads the opposition UDAR party, reported, however, that the meeting didn’t take place as the president didn’t show up.

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