KIEV, Ukraine – Thousands of Ukrainians chanted “Hero!” and sang the national anthem on Sunday, as a coffin carrying a protester who was killed in last week’s clashes with police was carried through the streets of the capital, underscoring the rising tensions in the country’s two-month political crisis.
Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, was one of three protesters who died in clashes Wednesday.
The opposition contends that Zhiznevsky and another activist were shot by police in an area where demonstrators had been throwing rocks and firebombs at riot police for several days. The government claims the two demonstrators were killed with hunting rifles, which they say police do not carry. The authorities would not say how the third protester died.
Meanwhile, protests against President Viktor Yanukovych continued to engulf the country, and are now beginning to spread to central and eastern Ukraine, the leader’s support base.
In Dnipropetrovsk, 240 miles southeast of Kiev on the Dnipro River, several hundred demonstrators tried to storm a local administration building, but police drove them back with water sprayed from a firetruck in subfreezing temperatures, the Interfax news agency reported. In Zaporozhets, about 45 miles downriver, demonstrators gathered outside the city administration building.
Meanwhile, in Kiev, protesters seized the Justice Ministry building Sunday night, adding another government building to the several already occupied by the opposition. After bursting in, protesters began erecting barricades. They also tore up a portrait of Yanukovych.
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych shelved a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union, but they have been increasingly gripped by people seeking more radical action, even as moderate opposition leaders have pleaded for the violence to end.
Zhiznevsky’s body was carried several hundred yards to Independence Square in central Kiev, where protesters have established a large tent camp and held demonstrations around the clock since early December. The coffin was then carried to the site of Zhiznevsky’s death at barricades near the Ukrainian parliament.
A crowd late Saturday besieged a building near the protest tent camp where about 200 police were sheltering. By early Sunday morning, a corridor was created, allowing police to leave.
The overnight outburst came soon after opposition leaders issued a defiant response to Yanukovych’s offer to make Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of their top figures, the country’s prime minister. While not rejecting the offer outright, Yatsenyuk said more of the opposition’s demands must be met, including Yanukovych’s resignation. He vowed protests will continue.