Ukraine

Ukraine Moves Closer to Civil War

Armed protestors fight back against security forces in Kiev and other cities

By mid-morning in Kiev, the bodies of dead Ukrainians were piled up in two crooked rows at the edge of Independence Square, the protest camp known as the Maidan, which now resembles a war zone. Only the previous night, President Viktor Yanukovych had called a truce in the fighting that had taken dozens of lives earlier this week. But before the night was over, the death toll had climbed at least by another 20 amid renewed clashes. The truce was off.

As the sun rose, it became all too apparent that lethal weapons – not merely stun grenades, rocks and Molotov cocktails, but rifles and pistols – had entered the fray on both sides. The conflict appeared to be spiraling toward a civil war, as deadly clashes between armed protestors and police were also reported in at least three other cities. Both sides blamed each other for the escalation. “Protesters broke the truce,” the President said in a statement posted on his website. “The opposition used the negotiation period to mobilize and get weapons to protesters.”

(PHOTOS: Deadly Protests Rage on in Kiev)

Around the Maidan in Kiev, TIME saw groups of masked and helmeted “self-defense units” searching the surrounding buildings for snipers, whom they blamed for most of the dead bodies that had been loaded into waiting ambulances. Some of the revolutionaries were armed not only with their usual clubs but with rifles and pistols, which they had used to fire at retreating lines of police throughout the morning.

As the lines of riot troops pulled back, protestors reoccupied the government buildings that they had lost to the police in the last round of violent clashes on Tuesday. But police appeared to be regrouping around the square by the afternoon, and the conflict looked set for more street-to-street fighting as evening approached. For both sides, one thing was clear – the fragile ceasefire was off.

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