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What the hell is going on in Ukraine?

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 Ukrainian protester among burning car tyres. Source: Getty Images
Ukrainian protester among burning car tyres. Source: Getty Images

THE Ukraine capital, Kiev, is burning. Five protesters have been shot dead. There are calls for calm amid the escalating hell on the street.

What is going on?

Protesters throw molotov cocktails at police during clashes in the centre of Kiev on January 22, 2014.

Protesters throw molotov cocktails at police during clashes in the centre of Kiev on January 22, 2014. Source: AFP

The protest movement in Ukraine has been simmering for months. This weekend, violent street battles erupted with protesters hurling fire bombs and stones. Police fired back with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. Dark smoke from burning tyres, used as barricades, billowed in the air.

Helmeted riot police moved in on hundreds of protesters, dismantling the barricades, beating many with truncheons and firing shots at some.

Oleksandr Turchynov, one of the opposition leaders, called on Ukrainians to rush to the centre of Kiev to defend their country. "Ukraine will not be a dictatorship, it will be an independent, European country. Let us defend Ukraine!"

Ukrainian protester throws a molotov cocktail in front of burning car tyres during a mass protest.

Ukrainian protester throws a molotov cocktail in front of burning car tyres during a mass protest. Source: Getty Images

Why is it happening?

Protesters are fighting against President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign a political and economic association pact with the EU after pressure from Russia.

The Ukrainian government had been working for years on a landmark trade deal with the European Union. In a sudden change of heart, Yanukovych backed out last November.

Eventually it was admitted, Russian pressure led to the turn around.

Protesters clash with police in central Kiev, Ukraine, early Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.

Protesters clash with police in central Kiev, Ukraine, early Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. Source: AP

The deal would have seen Ukraine citizens allowed to travel through the EU without visas; in return the Ukraine would adopt hundreds of laws and regulations, and a program of sweeping reforms.

To activists, the choice between Russia or Europe is a symbol of the plans for the future of Ukraine.

Protester throws a molotov cocktail on Grushevsky street on January 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.

Protester throws a molotov cocktail on Grushevsky street on January 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Source: Getty Images

Why didn't the president sign?

The pressure from Russia on the Ukraine can be extreme - and create economic pressure on an already struggling economy. There have been previous cases where the Kremlin have cut off gas exports into the country and banned Ukrainian products in Russia.

 Several people have died in clashes between protesters and police in the Ukrainian capital.

Several people have died in clashes between protesters and police in the Ukrainian capital. Source: AP

What does Russia want?

Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to see the former Soviet states realigned. He wants to form an alliance to give the EU a run for its money and without Ukraine this dream is impossible.

He also believes the protests in Ukraine are led by western forces, referring to them as "pre-planned" and not like a revolution. He is splashing cash to put the pressure on, with deals to cut the price of gas in Ukraine and buying billions of dollars worth of government bonds.

Ukrainian protesters among burning car tyres.

Ukrainian protesters among burning car tyres. Source: Getty Images

What are the two sides?

The country has a 50/50 split between the Russian supporters and the European supporters. The industrial workers in the eastern half favour closer ties with Russia, they speak the language and have the same religion. In the western half, they have closer ties with Europe. Many are Roman Catholic and they speak Ukrainian. These are the ones who want to leave Russia in the past and create stronger ties with their European friends, they are led by the three main opposition leaders - Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleg Tyagnybok.

Ukrainian protesters shoot with a help of petards.

Ukrainian protesters shoot with a help of petards. Source: Getty Images

Why are the protests intensifying now?

Last week, President Yanukovych pushed through anti-legislation laws which ban most forms of protest in the country. Demonstrators can no longer wear masks or helmets and anyone who blockades public buildings will be given a five-year jail term. Over 200,000 supporters of the opposition took to the centre of Kiev to protest against the new restrictions.

Protesters throw molotov cocktails at police during clashes in the centre of Kiev on January 22, 2014.

Protesters throw molotov cocktails at police during clashes in the centre of Kiev on January 22, 2014. Source: AFP

What next?

With both sides not looking to back down, and the death toll rising, the opposition has given the president a timeline to call an election - two days.

If this doesn't eventuate, they claim there will be more bloodshed. At this point, the next days are crucial and anything could eventuate.

After speaking with President Yanukovych, the Opposition Leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: "Tomorrow we will go forward together, and if it's a bullet in the forehead, then it's a bullet in the forehead, but in an honest, fair and brave way."

A pro-European Union activist stands near a barricade on Independence Square during clashes with police in central Kiev, Ukra...

A pro-European Union activist stands near a barricade on Independence Square during clashes with police in central Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. Source: AP

 

 
 

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