A truce in the Ukraine protests agreed to by the government and opposition leaders late Tuesday night has cleared the way for negotiations to begin Thursday, aimed at resolving the three-month conflict in the streets of the Ukraine capital, Kiev.
But reports of violence and accusations that President Viktor Yanukovych has unleashed secret death squads against the protesters continue to render any agreement shaky as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.
Yanukovych announced the truce on his official online site shortly before midnight Tuesday.
Vitali Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing champion who quit the sport to become leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance for Reform, countered on his party’s own site, agreeing to the truce while striking a skeptical tone.
“We have received assurances from Yanukovych that there would be no assault on Maidan,” Klitschko said, referring to the area in central Kiev where protesters have set up their stronghold, also called Indepnedence Square. “Literally, it means a truce. Today a key goal is to stop the bloodshed that authorities have provoked and unleashed. Now we will see how Yanukovych will stick to his word after promised sanctions from the West.”
Yesterday, Klitschko accused Yanukovych of unleashing “a war against his own people,” using “riot police and Titushki death squads” to attack the protesters, whose ranks reportedly grew by 20,000 yesterday even as clashes with authorities killed 26 people and injured over 400 more.
“Titushki” are civilian thugs who carry out violent assaults on orders from the government.
Wednesday, more reports of mayhem in the streets caused by armed civilians came in from around Kiev, including a report of a man, Vyacheslav Veremiy, who was returning home from an overnight work shift when thugs pulled him from his taxi and cold-bloodedly shot him in the chest, killing him.
Opposition leaders as well as human rights groups say that roving bands of such violent criminals are loose in Kiev, as well as other cities, looking to brutalize the Ukraine protesters — or anyone who gets in their path.
“There are large numbers of them,” said Amesty International’s Heather McGill. “It’s very difficult to say what the link is, but we have seen interviews with Titushki where they admitted they were being paid — there is definitely a body of young, athletic men being paid by the government.”
The use of paid thugs by the government to attack the Ukraine protests was one of the main sparks that ignited Tuesday’s violence — the deadliest day of Ukraine protests in 70 years.
“There were even thugs that the government has hired who have been roaming the streets, threatening civilians and shooting journalists in cars,” said a London-based expert on the Ukraine protests, Orysia Lutsevych. “They started throwing stones at the protesters and in a way that started the violence. So this particular escalation has been driven specifically by the government.”
The Ukraine protests started in November when Yakunovych backed away from a trade pact that would have linked Ukraine with the European Union and pulled the country our from under the thumb of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this week, Russia said it would provide loans to keep the faltering Ukraine economy on its feet. The announcement, followed by the Tuesday violence, led to suspicions that the government made a backroom deal with Putin to crush the Ukraine protests.
Tuesday night’s truce declaration in the Ukraine protests came just as the country’s military threatened a violent crackdown on what they called “terrorists,” meaning the protesters.
U.S. President Barack Obama, saying that the U.S. hold the government primarily responsible for the violence warned Yakunovych that “there will be consequences” for continued bloodshed in the Ukraine protests.