Priests join activists on the front lines of Ukraine’s protests, as officials fear a coup ousting the nation’s leaders.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said that the US and the EU supported the people of Ukraine as they sought a stronger democracy, as protests against the government of Viktor Yanukovich threatened to turn international.
In comments made on Saturday, Kerry said Ukrainians deserved the right to decide their own future and should not be coerced into accepting their future lay with one country – a reference to President Yanukovich’s decision to renege on a cooperation deal with the EU under pressure from Russia.
The statement came as Kerry prepared to meet Vitaly Klitschko, a Ukraine opposition leader, on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, Germany.
The people of Ukraine were “fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realise their aspirations”, he said. “They have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced. The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.”
His was the latest statement from Western powers supporting anti-Yanukovich protests, which have been ongoing for two months since the move away from the EU deal.
Klitschko told reporters at Saturday’s security conference that he had the backing of Western diplomats because an unstable Ukraine could bring instability to the whole region.
“The escalation must not be allowed to go on … we must avoid the start of a civil war,” he said.
Russia, however, said that the West was enforcing double standards. Foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused EU leaders of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs and helping stoke violent anti-government protests.
“Why are many prominent EU politicians actually encouraging such actions although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?” he said.
“What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?,” he said in response to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who earlier said Ukraine’s future lay in Europe.
The EU and Russia have been at loggerheads over Ukraine since Yanukovich ditched an EU association accord in November under pressure from a Moscow seen to be trying to bring its former Soviet satellite back into the fold.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Munich, Leonid Kozhara, the Ukranian foreign minister, called on Ukranians to distance themselves from the opposition, saying there was a “big misunderstanding between the government and the opposition”.
“For the first time in our country, we can see extremist groups,” he said.
He disputed claims that an opposition activist, Dmytro Bulatov, 35, had been tortured.
“Physically, this man is in good condition, and the only thing he has is a scratch on one of his cheeks.”
But Bulatov’s lawyer, Ruslan Radetski, told Al Jazeera’s Tamila Varshalomidze in Kiev, that he was in “intensive care unit after a surgery”.
“He is in a tough condition in intensive care after a surgery. He was kidnapped, beaten up and tortured. The doctors haven’t said yet when he will be able to leave the hospital, treatment is under way.”