Shop shelves empty as Kiev violence gets worse

21:40, Feb 20 2014
Kiev gets bloody
Wounded people are seen after clashes with riot police in central Kiev.
Kiev gets bloody
A tent burns in the anti-government protesters camp at Independence Square in Kiev.
Kiev gets bloody
A wounded riot police officer is seen in central Kiev.
Kiev gets bloody
Molotov cocktails are hurled at riot police.
Kiev gets bloody
An anti-government protester prepares to throw a Molotov cocktail as he joins others in attacking an office of the pro-presidential Party of the Regions.
Kiev gets bloody
Molotov cocktails are hurled at interior ministers.
Kiev gets bloody
Interior Ministry members take cover behind shields during clashes with anti-government protesters.
Kiev gets bloody
Anti-government protesters attend a rally at Independence Square in Kiev on February 16.
Kiev gets bloody
A priest speaks through a megaphone to riot police and anti-government protesters.
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Riot police stand in formation during clashes with protesters February 19.
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An anti-government protester rises his fist behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square February 19, 2014.
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KIEV VIOLENCE: Burning debris in the square in central Kiev.
Ukraine violence
POLICE: Government snipers were seen around state buildings.
Ukraine violence
UNITED: Protesters have been clashing with police for three days.
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Anti-government protesters continue to clash with police in Independence square, Kiev.
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An anti-government protester waves the national flag from the top of a statue in Independence Square, Kiev.
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An anti-government protester runs trough the rubble in Independence Square, Kiev.
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An aerial view shows Independence Square.

Kiev residents emptied bank machines of cash and stockpiled groceries on Thursday, with many staying off the streets of the Ukrainian capital after the worst day of violence since the country emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many shops, banks and restaurants in normally bustling central Kiev did not even open their doors as a fresh wave of clashes between riot police and protesters demanding that the government step down swept Independence Square, bringing the death toll to 67 since Tuesday.

So far the conflict has not spilled out much further than the main square, known as the Maidan, with life in the rest of the capital continuing as usual, but this week locals said central areas were peculiarly quiet.

"Almost everyone who's not at the Maidan is staying home. Everyone's scared, you can tell - the shelves are emptying in the supermarkets. We don't know how long this could all go on," Stanislav Mostovoy, a 26-year-old salesman, said.

Violence escalated this week with video footage showing police shooting from a rooftop at demonstrators in the Maidan plaza, while protesters threw petrol bombs and paving stones from barricades.

Flames and smoke drifted across the rubble-strewn streets as protesters flew flags daubed with slogans and the wounded were carried off by hurrying stretcher-bearers.

Iryna, a single mother who was walking to the Maidan to donate a bag of hypodermic needles and tubes for blood transfusions for the injured, said it was no wonder the streets were empty.

"Would you go out if there were snipers on the roofs of your city? This is essentially war," she said.

All schools and kindergartens in central Kiev closed this week and the city's metro system was stopped at one stage, although it reopened with a limited service on Thursday.

Most bank machines in the city centre ran out of cash as large numbers of people queued up to withdraw money.

One bank executive told Reuters he was checking loaves of bread in a local shop to see if they were fresh and the shop assistant said: "Don't be so fussy. This might be last bread you see for a while."

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Reuters