It only takes one word for people on Independence Square -
hardy though they are - to dash for cover: "Sniper!"
A handful of snipers have been wreaking havoc on the front
lines of Kiev's urban conflict, picking off targeted
individuals among protesters with kill-shots to the neck and
Self-defence groups on the protesters' side say at least two
snipers, and possible as many as four or five, operating from
vantage points on higher ground, reduced a small area on the
edge of Independence Square on Thursday to a battlefield.
Anti-government protesters hold snipers on the police side
responsible for deaths of at least 15 people in Kiev's spasm
of violence - the last possibly victim being a man who was
sipping coffee with his wife at dusk when he was shot in the
Even as the opposition-led protest movement were poised to
savour a victory over President Viktor Yanukovich with a deal
foreseeing early elections and formation of an interim
government, there was little cause for jubilation after
violence which had claimed at least 77 lives since Tuesday.
The snipers did their deadly work on Thursday in an area
about 300 metres up a steep rise from Independence Square,
known locally as the Maidan, which leads to the
heavily-protected presidential offices.
"I saw three people fall," said 27-year-old Roman, a former
sniper himself from the Berkut riot police who is now part of
a self-defence detail at the Hotel Ukraine, where the
reception area has been turned into a field hospital.
"They were shot in the head or neck."
Protesters said snipers, armed with Soviet-made SVD or SVS
weapons and given cover by armed police, used high ground
near the October Palace to shoot down onto protesters who
earlier that day had advanced up the hill to reclaim lost
TV footage showed several sniper victims - helmeted and
wearing body armour - being dragged away like lifeless rag
dolls by their comrades after apparently being hit by a
precise shot to the side of the head or neck.
Within two hours of the violence starting on Thursday, police
issued a statement saying it had been initiated by protesters
who had used snipers.
Long before Thursday's carnage, and as the protest movement
against Yanukovich grew increasingly violent, rumours had
abounded that police were using snipers.
That appeared to many to be the only explanation for the
first two deaths in the conflict in late January: two young
activists were found - one dead, one dying - with gunshot
wounds after a night of violence in front of Dynamo Kiev
But television footage and photographs of Thursday's violence
left no doubt that police snipers were at work.
One Reuters news photograph, taken from television footage,
showed a police sniper - flat on his front and legs splayed -
taking aim through a telescopic sight on a Finnish-made
weapon mounted on a rest.
The marksman responsible for the three deaths which Roman saw
was located on a roof of a metro station further up the hill,
He thus had a clear line of sight down into the protest zone
and the sprawling Independence Square, citadel of revolt,
Other protesters said snipers had been operating from the
roof of Kiev's main musical conservatory and from atop
Kolya Ververa, from western Ukraine like many of those on the
barricades, lost his friend, Roman Tochin, 43, in a burst of
firing and believes he was killed by a sniper.
"They were over there," he said gesturing to higher ground
behind October Palace. "Roman was one of five whom they got."
Igor Znativ, an artist from Lviv, who says he came across the
country to Kiev two months ago because he wanted his children
"to grow up in a more civilised world" said he felt there
were three snipers at work.
Even as he spoke men in balaclavas and battle fatigues at a
nearby barricade control point were turning people back
because of a sniper who they said was located further up the
Roman, who confessed to having killed one member of a
criminal gang in the line of duty before leaving the Berkut
in 2008, said: "There were definitely professionals working
An anaesthetist at the Hotel Ukraine medical centre, who
would give only his first name of Volodymyr, said the last
sniper victim had possibly been a man standing with his wife
in the grounds of October Palace, drinking coffee.
After a day of violence which tailed off in mid-afternoon, he
may have thought the danger was over.
"The bullet hit him in the back and side of the neck," said
Volodymyr. "We could not do much for him. He was still alive
when we sent him for care to another hospital. I do not know
what happened to him."