As it happened: Alarm at worst Kiev violence

Key Points

  • Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych sacks the head of the armed forces
  • The government suggests the army might be called in for the first time to quell protests
  • The EU will meet on Thursday to discuss sanctions against "those responsible"
  • Some 26 people die in clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, prompting the EU and US to express alarm
  • All times in GMT

    Hello and welcome to the BBC's coverage of the unrest in Ukraine, as police continue to clash with anti-government protesters for a second day in the capital. Over the last 24 hours, the death toll from the violence has risen to 26.


    In the last few hours, police have launched renewed assaults on protest camps set up in Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, with reports of several tents set ablaze and water cannon used. The square has been the focus of weeks of anti-government protests in central Kiev.


    The EU has voiced alarm over the deteriorating situation and says it is considering financial sanctions and visa restrictions "against those responsible for violence and use of excessive forces". EU leaders plan to meet on Thursday to discuss the "targeted measures", says European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

    map Satellite image showing smoke rising during Kiev clashes on 18 February

    The violence erupted on Tuesday outside parliament after government supporters blocked attempts to scale back the president's constitutional powers. Fighting spread to nearby streets, then police launched their first attack on the central protest camp on Tuesday evening.


    It is unclear what sparked the clashes, with each side blaming the other. Speaking earlier today, President Yanukovych said he blamed "radical elements", urging opposition leaders to distance themselves from those "who seek bloodshed and conflict". Protesters meanwhile blame pro-government agents, known as "titushki", of inciting the violence.

    Children light candles in front of the Ukrainian embassy, in Vilnius, Lithuania, 19 February 2014

    The interior ministry says ten of those killed yesterday were police. At least 14 protesters were also among the dead, as well as a journalist working for the Russian-language newspaper Vesti.

    People have been paying their respects outside the Ukrainian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Wednesday.

    An anti-government protester walks in Independence Square in central Kiev on 19 February 2014.

    Anti-government protesters locked in standoff with riot police over burning barricades in Independence Square today


    The unrest is not just restricted to the Ukrainian capital, with reports of violence erupting in the western cities of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil.

    14:31: Yasir Aziz, in Kiev,

    emails: Now living in Kiev is like living in hell. Every where a strange fear is surrounding. Metro services are closed and life is on the edge. The war at Maidan has affected life of common people. Mr. President Yanokovych and opposition leaders must the stop hide and seek game and avoid playing with innocent people. The people of Ukraine are tired of dirty politics games and demanding a better life. I, as a foreign international relations student here in Kiev, have observed a strange shine in the eyes of my colleagues to fight for their better rights. My young university mates who have been calm throughout, have now decided to stand up!


    Protesters have also reportedly seized weapons from a security service building they captured in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk including 268 pistols, two rifles, three handheld machine guns and 92 grenades, according to Interfax-Ukraine news agency.


    The defence ministry has also confirmed it is sending in paratroopers to Kiev, stressing that they are there to defend government offices and military installations, and not confront anti-government protesters.


    Ukraine's security service has now announced a nationwide "anti-terrorist" operation in response to the deadly violence that has rocked the capital and western parts of the country.

    In a statement, security service chief Oleksandr Yakemenko said more than 1,500 firearms had been seized by "criminals" in the past 24 hours, quoted by Interfax-Ukraine news agency.


    To see how events unfolded in Ukraine, take a look at our minute-by-minute coverage of the last 24 hours here: As it happened: Ukrainian police storm Kiev protest camp

    An anti-government protester gathers stones during a rally in central Kiev on 19 February 2014.

    Protesters gather stones to hurl at riot police, who respond with water cannon and rubber bullets, in central Kiev.

    14:47: Burt Norris, in Odessa

    emails: I and other American ex-pats in Odessa have been taking supplies to the opposition in Kiev. Tense moments at check points, but we made it OK. Second trip.


    The battle for Ukraine is about the influence and reach of the West in the world, says the BBC's Mark Mardell. You can read more on his thoughts about the situation and what it means for the US in his latest blog post.


    A doctor treating the wounded overnight in a makeshift hospital near Independence Square has told the BBC that police are trying to arrest wounded patients.

    Dr Olga Bogomolets said: "Police are coming into the hospitals and they are trying to take the wounded people to prison. So right now we have hundreds of volunteers staying near the hospitals and they don't let the police come in and take these people."

    She also said she had seen severe injuries caused by real bullets, people with burns, and some who have lost their eyes.

    Injured protesters in Kiev. Photo: 18 February 2014

    Hundreds of people have been injured on both sides since Tuesday, some of them seriously.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and French President Francois Hollande give a press conference on 19 February 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris

    Germany and France have condemned the violence in Ukraine, French President Francois Hollande said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. "There are unspeakable, unacceptable, intolerable acts being carried out in Ukraine," Mr Hollande told reporters at a news conference.


    The violence has taken its toll on sporting fixtures this week, with Dynamo Kiev's Europa League tie with Valencia on Thursday moved to Cyprus because of "security concerns". But Tottenham's Europa League match against Dnipro, also in Ukraine, is due to go ahead as Dnipropetrovsk - where the match is due to take place - is nearly 500km (300 miles) away from Kiev.


    Our colleagues at BBC Monitoring say the boxer-turned-opposition leader, Vitaly Klitschko, has blamed the government for the recent upsurge in violence in Kiev in an address posted on YouTube. In the video, Mr Klitschko, who is speaking in Russian, accuses the authorities of "showing contempt and ignoring people's demands".

    "This has turned peaceful protest into a violent stand-off," he said. "The authorities' actions are the only reason why blood is being shed in Kiev's streets. Therefore, people have only one demand: Yanukovych's regime has to go. The sooner this happens, the less blood it will spill."

    Screen grab of Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski's Twitter account

    Poland's Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, has announced on Twitter that he is "on his way to Kiev", after earlier saying he was heading to Ukraine on a mission on behalf of the EU.


    One of the three Ukrainian opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, says he hopes for more talks with the government, BBC Monitoring reports, citing a statement on his website.

    "It is difficult to hold talks in a situation like this, but it is even more difficult not to hold them," the statement read.

    Mr Yatsenyuk and Vitaly Klitschko both met President Yanukovych for late night talks which failed to resolve the situation.


    More international reaction coming in...the White House says it is monitoring the situation in Ukraine closely, and will consult with the EU on the next steps, including possible sanctions, according to Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

    The US is urging the Ukrainian government to pull back riot police from Independence Square in Kiev and call a truce to allow discussions with the opposition, he adds.

    Fred van Kolck, in Rivne, Ukraine

    emails: A lot of activity at an army base near Zhytomer. People are on the way to block the base. Last night four buses with police were stopped at a roadblock. This was at the highway to Kiev, close to Rivne. Twelve pistols where taken from police, and will be brought to Kiev.

    A photo taken on 19 February 2014 shows the remains of the Trade Union building on Kiev's Independence Square.

    The central trade union building in Kiev was set on fire late on Tuesday during clashes between the anti-government protesters and riot police. This is how it looks today.


    BBC News has compiled some before and after pictures of Independence Square, with close-up views of the main protest camp from the north and the south. You can take a look at our Big picture: Close-up of Kiev's Independence Square here.


    The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland are to meet in Kiev on Thursday to assess the situation before an EU meeting in Brussels to decide whether to impose sanctions on Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says.

    The US secretary of state, John Kerry, earlier said the US was discussing the possibility of sanctions with its European allies.

    A man (C) prays as people rest inside Mikhailovsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral which serves as a temporary shelter and a first-aid post for anti-government protesters, in Kiev on 19 February 2014.

    Anti-government protesters have taken temporary shelter in Kiev's St Michael's Cathedral, which is also serving as a first-aid post for the wounded.


    The International Olympic Committee says it has held an "informal" discussion with the Ukraine's national Olympic committee over the use of black armbands by athletes competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics, who wanted to show support to the families of those killed in the recent upsurge in violence. "It was agreed that other ways were more appropriate to mark the tragic events in Ukraine," a spokesperson told BBC Sport.

    Ukranian journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk

    tweets: Security Service begins an antiterrorist operation on the territory of #Ukraine. Measures to intensify maintenance of public order introduced


    The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall has written a piece on the broader fallout from the Ukrainian upsurge in violence. She says it is widening rifts both internationally and locally.


    Newly released amateur footage of clashes in Kiev shows both sides shielding themselves from attacks.

    Daniel Sandford BBC News, Kiev

    This is a like violent game of chess, and nobody can see enough moves ahead to know what the outcome will be.


    More from the White House. US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the deaths in clashes were "completely outrageous" and have "no place in the 21st Century".


    "The fact of the matter is we have made very clear to the Ukrainian government that it is their responsibility to allow for people [to] protest," said Mr Rhodes.

    Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

    tweets: Polish, German and French foreign ministers all in Ukraine tomorrow. Will meet the President and opposition leaders. A key moment in crisis.

    Interior Ministry members stand in formation in front of anti-government protesters during a rally in central Kiev in the early hours of 19 February 2014.

    Riot police lined up in formation during a rally staged by anti-government protesters in central Kiev this morning.


    Reacting to the latest developments, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the use of violence "by all sides" and urged President Yanukovych "to pull back government forces" and engage with the opposition.


    Mr Cameron warned the Ukrainian president that "the world is watching" and "those responsible for violence will be held accountable".


    More on the Security Service's "anti-terrorist" operation (see 14:36). The service has now said preparations are under way, but the operation has not yet been launched, our colleagues at BBC Monitoring report.


    The Defence Ministry has said the army "may be involved" in the anti-terrorist operation, in a statement on its website.


    The main objective of the anti-terrorist operation, the defence ministry says, is "to stop extremism and the illegal actions of radical groups that threaten the lives of millions of Ukrainians, to ensure protection for peaceful civilians and not to allow civil war in Ukraine".

    Interior ministry members leave the building as anti-government protesters hold a rally outside an office of the interior ministry in the town of Lutsk in north-western Ukraine, on 19 February 2014.

    Government buildings and institutions have been targeted by protests and rallies across the country, like this interior ministry building in the town of Lutsk, north-western Ukraine.


    Protesters have repeatedly urged the army to stay out of the dispute, and politicians have cited Ukraine's constitution as forbidding the government to order the armed forces to attack civilians.


    However, the Defence Ministry says the anti-terrorism operation would be conducted in line with terrorism laws, which confers the right to use weapons and "special means" to apprehend offenders, check citizens and officials for identity, search vehicles, and restrict the movements of vehicles and pedestrians.


    Ukrainian protesters have seized control of the capital's main post office in Independence Square after being forced out of a nearby building that burned down during Tuesday's clashes, Associated Press reports.

    17:55: Breaking News

    The Ukrainian president has dismissed head of the armed forces Volodymyr Zamana, the presidency website says.


    The new armed forces chief is Adm Yuriy Ilyin, who was previously the head of the Ukrainian navy. No reason was given for Gen Zamana's dismissal.


    Away from the political intrigue in Kiev, the European Investment Bank (EIB) says it is halting its activities in Ukraine, according to Reuters.


    The EIB is the EU's soft-loans branch. Since 2007, it has invested more the $2bn in Ukraine in projects including the extension of a metro line, and modernisation of air-traffic control facilities.

    An anti-government protester stands behind a barricade during clashes with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square

    Protesters kitted out in gas masks are continuing to defy the crackdown.


    Earlier this month Gen Zamana was quoted by AFP news agency as saying that "no-one has the right to use the armed forces to limit the rights of citizens".


    Unrest is reported outside Kiev, in the city of Khmelnytsky. Footage has been released showing protesters overturning a bus to be used as a barricade, and a woman was reportedly shot dead by security forces.

    Global Post's Dan Peleschuk

    tweets: Russian state TV referring to the "terrorists" from Lvov attempting to head into #Kyiv/#Kiev amid road closures.

    Volodymyr Zamana

    Gen Zamana, 54, was appointed the commander-in-chief of the armed forces two years ago. The general is still listed on the military's website as the armed forces chief.


    If you're struggling to keep up with the main characters in the Ukraine crisis, have a look at our profiles of Ukraine's protest leaders.

    Vitali Klitschko

    Among the main opposition leaders is, of course, Vitali Klitschko. The former heavyweight boxing champion has transformed himself into a genuine contender for leadership of the country.


    Amid the violence, Canada has shut its Kiev embassy as a "security precaution", and the UK Foreign Office has updated its Ukraine travel advice to say its embassy is "temporarily closed to visitors".


    To recap on the dramatic events of the last few hours, the Ukrainian defence ministry has said the army might be called on to take part in a nationwide "anti-terrorist" operation. Hours later, the president sacked the armed forces chief. No reason has yet be given for the sacking.


    More than 1,000 people are rallying outside the main police office in Zhytomyr, a city just to the west of Kiev, throwing petrol bombs, according to Ukrainian news agency UNIAN.

    Ukrainian truck drivers burn tires as they block the highway leading to the border with Poland near the crossing point in Krakovets

    In a further sign that the crisis is deepening, Ukrainian lorry drivers blockade the main road to the border with Poland.


    Protesters have ransacked and set fire to the governing Party of Regions office in Poltava, east of Kiev, according to Interfax-Ukraine news agency.


    US President Barack Obama warns that "there will be consequences" for anyone who steps over the line in Ukraine.

    President Enrique Pena (L) walks with President Barack Obama after Obama arrived to attend the North American Leaders" Summit in Toluca near Mexico City

    Mr Obama, who is in Mexico for a conference, told reporters that the military should not step in to a situation that civilians should resolve.

    Philip Breedlove

    tweets: As NATO's military commander I ask that responsible leaders avoid the use of military force against the people of Ukraine.

    19:40: Paul Adams BBC News

    Two weeks ago, in a telephone call leaked to the media, a senior American diplomat dismissed European efforts with a single Anglo-Saxon expletive. Today in Paris, US Secretary of State John Kerry stood shoulder to shoulder with French counterpart Laurent Fabius and said the allies were offering President Yanukovych a choice. He said: "We believe the choice is clear and we are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends in Europe and elsewhere in order to try to create the environment for compromise."


    Why has violence erupted across Ukraine? What do Western countries think? And where does Russia stand? To find out, take a look at our piece explaining the crisis.


    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the use of violence in Ukraine "by any side is totally unacceptable". He urges in a statement that the authorities to "desist from the use of excessive force" and adhere to international human rights norms.


    This is the end of our live coverage of the crisis in Ukraine. Thank you for reading, and please check our news front page for further updates.


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