NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Ukrainians throughout the Tri-State area have been following developments back in their native land, Skyping with people who are right in the thick of the turmoil in Kiev.
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, the office of embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced late Wednesday that he and leaders of the country’s raging protests have called for a truce.
The brief statement came after Yanukovych met with top leaders of the protests that flared into violence on Tuesday that has left at least 26 people dead. Fires have continued to burn in Kiev.
The statement did not give details of what a truce would entail or how it would be implemented.
Fires have burned in Kiev for two straight nights, in the worst of nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Kiev. The two sides are locked in a stalemate over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West.
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia.
Nitai Vinitzky served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine from 2010 to 2012.
“Today, I’ve been able to get in touch with my friends, and it’s a relief when you hear their voice and know they’re OK,” Vinitzky said.
Back when he was serving, Vinitzky posed for a photo with his girlfriend in the square at Kiev that is now at the center of the protest. Now, he has been hearing via Skype from friends.
Konstantine Yevtyeyev, 27, spoke to CBS 2 from a mall in Kiev but spent time Tuesday in the square where chaos reigns.
“It looked like war; actually, a lot of smoke, and I could see a lot of ambulances, and people on talking on their cellphones, and panic,” he said.
Many feared earlier Wednesday that the situation was deteriorating.
“The whole city is surrounded,” Yevtyeyev said. “Nobody is allowed to enter. Nobody is allowed to go out. So it’s pretty ugly here, and you know, there are some rumors that there is going to be some kind of war.”
As to what has been causing the unrest, Vinitzky said Ukraine has been suffering growing pains.
“It’s going through its teen years, you know?” he said. “It’s going through its rebellious phase — growing up, and kind of seeing what’s best for it — not best for its parents, not best for its friends. It’s trying to get an identity.”
Yevtyeyev said he worries about what comes next.
“Some people say the army is going to enter the city, and so the army’s going to make some emergency state right here in the capital, but now everything is just — nobody says nothing,” he said.
Added Vinitzky: “I fear that it’s going to be a serious situation. It’s going to turn real ugly and bloody, and that not even the, you know, the U.N. or anybody’s going to be able to sort it out.”
As for the word on a truce, Vinitzky also had his doubts. Just a few weeks ago, another truce was called and fell apart.
President Barack Obama also spoke about the crisis in Ukraine on Wednesday. He urged the country to avoid violence against peaceful protesters or face consequences, as the United States considered joining European partners to impose sanctions aimed at ending deadly street clashes that are sparking fears of civil war.
“There will be consequences if people step over the line,” Obama said shortly after landing in Mexico for a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, as fires burned in central Kiev. “And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step in to what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians.”
The statement from Yanukovych’s office about the truce came shortly after Obama’s remarks. Obama later responded that he hoped a truce would “provide space for the sides to resolve their disagreements peacefully.”
“Ultimately the government’s responsible for making sure that we shift toward some sort of unity government, even if it’s temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we’ve seen on the streets, without the bloodshed that all of us, I think, strongly condemn,” Obama said at an evening news conference with his fellow North American leaders.
Meanwhile, the European Union called an extraordinary meeting of its 28 member countries on Thursday to address the situation.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would travel to Ukraine, meeting with the Ukrainian government and opposition before the emergency EU meeting. EU sanctions would typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the EU countries and freezing their assets there.
Obama said he is monitoring the Ukrainian violence “very carefully.”
“We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint and to not resort to violence when dealing with peaceful protesters,” Obama said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris for meetings with Fabius and others, said he was disturbed by the level of abuse demonstrated by the Ukrainian government and protesters.
“We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps in order to create the atmosphere for compromise,” he said.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday what sort of sanctions or penalties the U.S. could impose.
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