KIEV, Ukraine - Protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back, killing at least 70 people and wounding hundreds of others, according to a protest doctor.
Video footage on Ukrainian television
showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying
on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves
with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or
planks of wood.
CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reported that protesters were also seen leading away a dozen police officers they had captured. Ukraine's Interior Ministry said 67 police were captured in all. The protesters promised not to harm them, and an opposition leader said they were being held in Kiev's occupied city hall.President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who are demanding his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country - mostly in its western cities - are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
Protesters across the country are also
upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the
country's ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with a $15
billion loan from Russia.
"My own people are killing each other. It's something worse than a dream," heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, brother of opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, told the AP in a telephone interview from Hamburg, Germany. "I am just speechless. I can't believe something like this is happening in my country."Thursday was the deadliest day yet at the sprawling protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square, also called the Maidan. Snipers were seen shooting at protesters there - and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
One of the wounded, volunteer medic
Olesya Zhukovskaya, sent out a brief Twitter message - "I'm dying" -
after being shot in the neck. Dr. Oleh Musiy, the medical coordinator for the
protesters, said she was in serious condition after being operated on.
In addition, three policemen were killed Thursday and 28 suffered gunshot wounds, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.
There was no way to immediately verify any of the death tolls. Earlier in the day, an Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of 21 protesters laid out near Kiev's protest camp.
On the front lines Thursday, Dima Yurinov, who normally works as a consultant, told CBS News that he has joined the fight against the government.
"They started first. They started shooting first. We're staying here, just staying. And they start shooting," he said.
At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Ukrainian alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska, 24, said she will not take part in Friday's women's slalom due to the developments in Kiev.
"As a protest against lawless actions made toward protesters, the lack of responsibility from the side of the president and his lackey government, we refuse further performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games," her father and coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, wrote in a Facebook post.In Brussels, the 28-nation European Union decided in an emergency meeting Thursday to impose sanctions against those behind the violence in Ukraine, including a travel ban and an asset freeze against some officials.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama about the crisis in Ukraine on Thursday evening. She briefed them about the trip of the three EU foreign ministers to Kiev, and all three leaders agreed that a political solution needs to be found as soon as possible to prevent further bloodshed.
Saying the U.S. was outraged by the violence, Obama urged Yanukovych in a statement to withdraw his forces from downtown Kiev immediately. He also said Ukraine should respect the right of protest and that protesters must be peaceful.
Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Yanukovych and "strongly condemned the violence against civilians," the White House said. It was the fourth time Biden has spoken to the Ukrainian president since Jan. 23.
Biden "called upon President
Yanukovych to immediately pull back all security forces – police, snipers,
military and paramilitary units, and irregular forces," the White House said. "The vice president
made clear that the United States is prepared to sanction those officials
responsible for the violence."
The Kremlin issued a statement with Putin blaming radical protesters and voicing "extreme concern about the escalation of armed confrontation in Ukraine."
The Russian leader called for an immediate end to bloodshed and for steps "to stabilize the situation and stop extremist and terrorist actions." He also sent former Russian ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to Ukraine to act as a mediator.The clashes this week have been the most deadly since protests kicked off in November after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine.
The fighting in Independence Square has sparked fear in the central parts of the capital, where residents emptied bank machines of cash and stockpiled supplies of groceries.
Many shops, banks and restaurants and normally bustling Kiev did not open their doors Thursday. Schools in the center of the city were closed.
"Almost everyone who's not at the Maidan is staying home. Everyone's scared, you can tell - the shelves are emptying in the supermarkets. We don't know how long this could all go one," Stanislav Mostovoy, a 26-year-old salesman, told Reuters.
Iryna, a single mother who was walking to the Maidan to donate a bag of hypodermic needles and tubes for blood transfusions for the injured, told Reuters it was no wonder the streets were empty.
"Would you go out if there were snipers on the roofs of your city? This is essentially war,"