Tensions have escalated again in Ukraine over the weekend, as headlines around the world spread news that a high-profile activist has allegedly been tortured by Ukrainian officials.
Dmytro Bulatov, an official involved in organizing motorcades for the ongoing protests, had been missing for over a week when he reappeared Thursday - bruised, bloody, and claiming to have been tortured by government officials.
According to CNN, Bulatov claims that he was kidnapped by Russian-speaking officials who repeatedly demanded to know who was funding the protests. Bulatov attempted to explain that the protests are a popular uprising - and, since the first protest reigniting clashes last month, have been largely spontaneous - but to no avail. The Interior Ministry has launched an investigation.
While the Ukrainian government was not explicitly implicated in the crime, anti-government sentiment has sparked again as the news spread around the world. Bulatov stands as a human symbol of the police brutality shown throughout the protests, and his torture has become a rallying cry against the government's confused inaction.
The news surfaced as Yanukovych signed an amnesty bill for hundreds of protestors detained during the past several months; while the move is a concession to the protest movements' overarching aims, preconditions - e.g. that protestors have to vacate government buildings beforehand - have left the opposition unimpressed.
The development is the latest in a series of mass protests in Kiev since early December, when hundreds stormed Independence Square to protest the government's refusal to become a full member of the European Union (EU). Yanukovych opted to strengthen ties with Russia instead of joining the EU - angering the population which was once under Soviet rule.
Last week, Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk rejected an offer by President Yanukovych to take up the post of Prime Minister - as well as several other offers that signaled willingness to meet the opposition's demands. He said that refusal stemmed solely from the government's refusal to repeal the anti-protest laws, which were eventually repealed earlier this week.
Despite this, talks have stalled - and the protest has spread from a central Kiev square to provincial governments across the country.
Meanwhile, the newly surfaced allegations - replete with BBC News footage of an injured Bulatov - have left both the US and EU in shock.
"We are deeply concerned by increasing reports of protesters disappearing and being beaten and tortured, as well as by attacks on journalists," White House spokesman Jay Carney stated. "It is especially concerning that some of these reports have suggested the involvement of security forces."
Catherine Ashton, Foreign Policy Chief for the European Union, also condemned the reports.
"I am deeply alarmed by the violence and cases of intimidation and torture," Ashton released in a statement. "I am particularly appalled by the cruel treatment and torture of Dmytro Bulatov and reports that there are attempts to arrest him from his hospital bed. This is completely unacceptable and must stop immediately."
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande pushed Ukraine to end the conflict swiftly Friday in light of the news.
"On Ukraine, we are calling to an immediate dialogue without violence," Hollande stated in a joint press conference.
"We are concerned about the violence in Ukraine. The repeal of restrictions on fundamental freedoms was a step in the right direction, and we urge President Yanukovych to respect his people's wishes and put his country back on a path to a more stable and secure European future," Cameron added.
Video footage (GRAPHIC)
Warning: the video footage of Dmytro Bulatov below has graphic images.