Ukraine Conflict: Five Things You Should Know

Thousands of people across many cities in Ukraine have come out in protest, calling for president Viktor Yanukovych to step down.

Here are five essential facts you should know about the ongoing unrest:

EU vs. Russia

The protests were sparked after president Viktor Yanukovych spurred a trade and investment deal with EU and sought financial help through Russia.

Russia's Vladimir Putin agreed to buy billions of dollars worth of Ukrainian government bonds, and to reduce the price of gas exports.

Ukraine required urgent financial assistance to keep the economy stable. However, pro-EU protesters accused Yanukovych of having sold Ukraine to Russia.

Caught between Western powers on one side, and the former Soviet master on the other, Yanukovich admitted that his decision to spur the deal with EU had been influenced by heavy pressure from Russia.

Putin said that Russia's assistance was "not tied to any conditions", and both presidents confirmed they had not discussed Ukraine joining a Moscow-led customs union.

However, the bailout keeps Kiev firmly tied to Moscow, and the possibility of a collaboration with EU does not seem to be included in Yanukovich's plans for the future of Ukraine.

Protesters' Demands 

Anti-government protesters are urging the government to sign the EU deal and release political prisoners, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Protesters also demand a repeal of the new law brought in to tackle violence. Heavy fines or arrest for up to 15 days are imposed on people in case of participation in rallies, meetings, street marches in masks, helmets or hats that complicate identification of a face, according to the new anti-protest law.

"Blocking of buildings or constructions that ensure activity of state power bodies and community of citizens, with resistance to representatives of power with a use of weapons or other objects may lead to imprisonment from five up to 10 years."

Government's Promises

Most recently, Ukraine's president promised a government reshuffle: "I will do all I can to stop this conflict, to stop violence," Yanukovych said in a meeting with church leaders.

Prime minister Mykola Azarov said he was ready to resign, together with his cabinet, if parliament demanded it.

He added that his government was ready to repeal or at least tone down the new anti-protest law.

However, the government's promises failed to quell the unrest which has spread to more than 10 cities.

Ukrainian opposition leader and former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko rejected Yanukovich's latest concession, which includes the prime minister's post. Klitschko said anything short of the president's resignation will not satisfy the protesters.

Klitschko also called for international intervention to resolve the ongoing crisis.

"Any discussion of how to settle the crisis in Ukraine must take place with the involvement of the international mediators of the highest level. Instead of shifting to solving the situation by common sense, Yanukovich has declared war on his own people.

"He is trying to hold on to power at the price of blood and de-stabilisation of the situation in the country. He has to be stopped," Klitschko's Udar party said in a statement.

Violence

The protests, originally peaceful, turned violent after the introduction of the controversial new anti-protest laws by the country's government, which denies basic human rights such as freedom of speech and association.

The uprising culminated in the killing of at least three demonstrators by police on Wednesday.

Anti-government protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs at security forces who fired back with tear gas.

The capital Kiev is witnessing continuing clashes and other towns have been affected by the unrest. 

A ceasefire had been agreed but it seems fragile. Parliament has urged the president to declare a state of emergency - something he has resisted so far.

State of emergency

European Commission leader José Manuel Barroso spoke to Yanukovich by phone to express his concerns with the violence. Yanukovich assured him that he would not call a state of emergency and that there were no plans to involve the military.

However, Ukraine's Justice Minister Olena Lukash has warned that she would call National Security and Defence Council to introduce a state of emergency if the anti-government protests do not leave her ministry.

"If the protesters do not leave the Justice Ministry building in half an hour I will ask the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine to impose the state of emergency," Lukash told Inter TV channel.

The warning comes after the demonstrators seized the justice ministry near Independence square, Kiev.

No one was hurt during the seizure of the ministry, according to local media.