Huge Kiev rally (file)
Huge Kiev rally (file) Reuters

On Wednesday night, just after 1 a.m. on the coldest night of winter to date with temperatures at -13 C (9 F), thousands of Ukrainian riot police made a surprise crackdown on protesters at Kiev's Independence Square, in which police used chainsaws to dismantle makeshift barricades.

The protests are part of a two week uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to cancel a deal to integrate Ukraine with the European Union (EU). Russia is believe to have threatened Ukraine with financial troubles if it shifts towards the EU, and offered it reduced gas prices if it stays aligned with Russia.

However, on Tuesday Yanukovych said he would try to sign the EU integration deal by spring, adding "we tasked the government to accelerate this work and involve as many specialists as needed."

Police and protesters scuffled in the square, as several officers confirmed they had been given orders to clear barricades around the square but not remove the tent camp that has been set up in it, according to The Guardian.

On Wednesday morning police left the square and more protesters arrived. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov claimed later in the day that force was not applied against protesters.

After things quieted down, US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited the square and handed out food to protesters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the crackdown, saying the US "expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest... with riot police, bulldozers and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy."

Last Wednesday during a visit to Moldova, Kerry expressed support for the popular movement in Ukraine, saying "to the people of the Ukraine, we say... you, too, deserve the opportunity to choose your own future."

The latest clash came as the EU's Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton was in Kiev. On Tuesday, Ashton had visited the square after meeting with Yanukovych and warning him not to use force against protesters.

Wednesday's clashes involved Kiev city hall as well, which has been occupied by protesters for 10 days. Police dismantled tents outside the city hall, but apparently did not attempt to storm the build, and later left. Protesters sprayed water in front of the hall to create an ice region too slippery for police to advance.

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