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US Ambassador to Ukraine on Crisis; Unrest Grips Central Kiev; EU's Catherine Ashton Condemns Violence; Social Media on Ukraine Crisis; Crowds Gearing Up to Defend Square; Protests in Ukraine Turn Violent; Venezuelan Opposition Leader Turns Himself In; Pussy Riot Detained in Sochi

Aired February 18, 2014 - 15:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: And tonight, crisis in the heart of Kiev, this is the scene right now in the Ukrainian capital as the political standoff takes another deadly turn. So what options does this man, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, have to get his country back on track.

Also ahead, escaping extremism: why some Syrian rebels are now leaving the formidable fighting group they once embraced. And exclusive report from inside the country.

Plus, where does art end and politics begin? Don't worry, that wasn't expensive or real. But tonight, I explore the fine line between art for art's sake and art as a form of protest.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: A very good evening from London. We begin with the worst outbreak of violence in Ukraine in weeks. A tense and volatile scene right now in Kiev where it is just after 10:00 pm.

Now riot police are confronting anti-government protesters in Independence Square announcing a short time ago that they are conducting an, and I quote, anti-terror operation.

Well, fires burning after some protesters lit tires and threw Molotov cocktails. Clashes earlier today left nine people dead.

Well, protesters marched on parliament and set fire to the ruling party's headquarters. All this happening just two days after the government and protesters reached what was a shaky compromise. Ukraine's prosecutor- general is promising the heaviest punishment for organizers of today's protests.


VIKTOR PSHONKA, UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR GENERAL (through translator): I, as the prosecutor general, can state the truce has been broken. For the sake of pursuing their own political interests, they neglected all previously reached agreements and put lives and the peace of millions of Kiev residents under threat.


ANDERSON: Well, we'll go to Kiev as soon as possible.

First, let's get some perspective now from our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He has spent much of the past decade or so covering Ukraine and was there during the Orange Revolution 10 years ago.

Nick, is it clear at this stage what has caused this latest uptick in what is a very violent scene?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been building in momentum for the last few months. But certainly this morning it appears to be a move of protesters towards government buildings.

But in situations like this, it's not really about who started it, it's about who allowed it to escalate. And now we have this ultimatum at 6:00 local time for people to clear the square and these hordes of riot police, quite remarkable pictures being broadcast over YouTube, 200,000 people often watch them, I'm sure you're seeing some of them there. These hordes of riot police moving towards the crowd, blocking them in now. There are reports for people in the crowd on social media that they are, in fact, boxed in there. No where else to move.

The question you ask, Becky, how did we get to this point? Well, I think really the president Viktor Yanukovych may feel like he is boxed in himself here. There isn't really much space to maneuver. His sponsors, his backers, I think need to see some iron resolve from him perhaps at this point. Negotiations, or attempts to soften his position with the opposition clearly haven't yielded what they wanted. He'd offered them some key cabinet posts in the past few weeks. Obviously smelled blood perhaps there and wanted to keep pushing him.

But really I'm standing in Sochi here and the main man I think whose opinion everybody wants to know is Vladimir Putin.

We are just over halfway through his games here. Many thought that nothing in Ukraine would possibly escalate during the Olympiad, that he would want to see that well behind him before even talking to Viktor Yanukovych about how they might find a resolution to this particular problem. So it is even more remarkable that while we're still seeing the snowboarding cross announce its results here that in fact we're also seeing on the streets of Kiev -- and we're talking the picture you're seeing there of the most central part.

I mean, it's Times Square, Oxford Circus of central Kiev where these clashes have been breaking out, where these barricades have been put int, snow when I was there before Christmas. They've been moving in sand apparently to build them up as spring has begun to set in.

But just absolutely devastating scenes, Becky.

ANDERSON: All right, Nick, stay with me. I've got journalist Victoria Butenko on the line now from Kiev. And if you can just explain to us as we look at these live and very disturbing pictures, what you are seeing and hearing on the ground.

VICTORIA BUTENKO, JOURNALIST: Well, what is happening today is basically police clearing out the protesters. They started with the (inaudible), which is about three blocks away from there. The protest headquarters and main square of the city. And now they are using water cannons and they're using a lot of the police to clear it out.

And the fires you see is the police (inaudible). Protesters (inaudible) and the protesters themself using fireworks and burning tires in order to create more smoke to the police doesn't see them, Becky.

ANDERSON: Is it clear where this might go over the next couple of hours?

BUTENKO: Well, frankly we don't know what to expect. The police is announcing that they are conducting (inaudible) with a little warning that they provided. And they also announced that they are (inaudible) about three hours, including the public traffic.

And (inaudible) people to refrain from going to the ticket center to (inaudible).

And we have not heard from the president yet. But we heard from the government. They are blaming the opposition for anything happening in the city now, because their position is one (inaudible) rally today, Becky.

ANDERSON: All right. We're going to leave it there just for the moment. Thank you very much indeed for that.

The U.S. government says it is appalled by the violence. It's urging President Yanukovych to restart a dialogue with opposition leaders immediately.

Well, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine spoke to CNN a short time ago. This is what he said.


GEOFFREY PYATT, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: It's clear there are still thousands of people out on the plaza right now. And any effort to take that ground by violence would produce atrocious casualties. They are encouraging the quickest possible return to political dialogue. And we hope that that will happen this evening.


ANDERSON: That was the U.S. ambassador.

Nick Paton Walsh is still with us. He went on to say that they are friends of Ukraine and that they are there to encourage dialogue and a healthy economic environment. When asked whether -- when asked to respond to criticism that the U.S. has been meddling in this, he said absolutely not. The U.S. has invested a lot of money and political capital over the years. Sanctions, though, he said will be used if there is further violence against the people.

You spoke a couple of minutes ago about the president of Ukraine sort of pandering to his sponsors to the east and concerned about his potential allies or foes going forward to the west. Your sense of the involvement here of other players, that being the U.S., Europe and Russia, of course?

WALSH: Well, to be honest, in many ways the EU and U.S. haven't really been that fiscally or financially in the game here so far. The reason why Viktor Yanukovych has had such sway is because the Ukrainian economy is in trouble and Russia is offering billions of dollars to bail them out in many ways.

So the U.S. have tried to put together something that's going to be an equivalent to that and singularly failed.

But what they do offer, and what many Ukrainians certainly living in the west who are an hour's drive away from Poland and see the economic transformation that country has had in the last two decades is a closer glimpse at a sort of western way of life and European standards of living.

Ukraine, in many ways, hasn't experienced the same promise and progress that a lot of eastern European countries closer to the European Union politically have as well.

So that's what the EU and the U.S. potentially offer as well.

This is a long fought battle, in many ways, for the United States, to give the war metaphor there. In 2004, during the Bush administration, a lot of political capital invested there by Colin Powell, by George Bush trying to convince the country to head west. It seemed like they'd won, but then the president elected, the pro-western president Viktor Yushchenko kind of blew it in many ways. He didn't offer in enough reform. He didn't bring the transformation and progress people wanted to see.

Then they slipped back easterwards towards Viktor Yanukovych, towards the Kremlin sphere of influence. And now of course we have again this standoff where it seems the country is split in many ways. The west does want to head west, the east economically tied to the east -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Nick Paton Walsh on the story of the moment for you tonight. The pictures there telling the story. Deadly violence in Ukraine once again.

Russia has called the escalation and violence, and I quote, a direct result of the connivance by western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes to the aggressive actions of radical forces. This on a day that Moscow gave Ukraine $2 billion in aid, which it had been holding back to demand a decisive action to crush the protests.

So, tonight, the question who is in charge?

Still to come, the members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot are rounded up off the streets of Sochi and taken in for questioning. We're going to have a full report on that for you.

Plus, the threat of violence looms over Caracas as anti-government protesters march through the Venezuelan capital.

And an exclusive interview with a defector from the deadly ISIS group in Syria. that all coming up after this short break. Do stay with us.


ANDERSON: Well, this is CNN and Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson for you in London. 12 minutes past 8:00.

Let's just take you back to the streets of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, the scene of ongoing clashes between protesters and riot police. We're on that story for you. And the more we get from the ground, of course, we will bring to you as we get word.

Well, two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were briefly detained today in the Olympic host city of Sochi. The women were taken into custody and claimed they were roughed up by police.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson with the details.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the police station, not very far from the Olympic park, where more than a dozen journalists, activists and members of the controversial Russian band Pussy Riot were held for several hours. They have been released and a husband of one of the band members tells us that the charges that they were suspected of, which is stealing from their hotel, have been dropped.

PYOTRE VERZILOV, HUSBAND OF NADEZHDA TOLOKONNIKOVA: They were just strolling. They weren't doing any actions, not performing, not doing anything, just walking in the park when they were suddenly surrounded with around 30 plain clothes and uniformed police officers who, with the use of physical force, apprehended them, put them down to the ground then put them in paddy wagons and took to this station where before the lawyer came to the station they did also use physical force down here. They were just basically, you know, carried people and dragging people by hands and legs from one room to another. And, well, basically they were behaving very badly. And all the women who were detained earlier, they will be making official complaints of bad behavior of police down here.

WATSON: Nadezhda told Radio Free Europe she was hit in the mouth.

VERZILOV: Yes. They were -- they did have several pushes and punches to her. And all that happened because she said that she will not be questioned before her lawyer arrived.

WATSON: What would you like to tell the International Olympic Committee right now?

VERZILOV: Well, the International Olympic Committee should definitely very clear that people should not be detained for whatever reason without an obvious reason on -- in the place where Olympic games are held.

WATSON: These are not the first people who have been detained and or arrested since the start of the Olympic games. Within the last week, a prominent environmentalist and a leader of the Circassian ethnic minority, both who have come out publicly criticizing the Winter Olympics have both been arrested. The environmentalist is now reportedly on hunger strike.

Now, the Russian government insists that politics should not be mixed with the athletics at the Winter Games, but there is another message that's being sent right now: criticism of the Olympics simply will not be tolerated. And that doesn't seem to fit with the Olympic spirit.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Sochi, Russia.


ANDERSON: Well, in Olympic sporting action today Dutch dominance continued on the speed skating track. Sven Kramer was favored to win in the men's 10,000 meters, but Team mate Jorrit Bergsma took the title in the end, won gold and set a new Olympic record in the process. Bob Jong took the bronze to round out Netherlands clean sweep in the event.

And ice hockey today home team Russia beat Norway 4-0. The Russian squad will now face Finland for a spot in the semifinals.

And here's a look at where the medal table stands at present.

Live from London, this is Connect the World. Coming up, a dramatic day in Caracas as a fugitive opposition leader turns himself in. We're going to have all the details on that after this.

And it's a war within a war, and exclusive insight into Syria's brutal reality.


ANDERSON: Well, this is a mess tonight. On the streets of the Ukrainian capital, the scene of ongoing clashes between protesters and riot police. We were just here on CNN, spoken to one of our producers on the ground who says it's very unclear how this will play out.

Nothing from the president as of yet.

You know, this is now into its 12th week. The scenes here, though, turning very deadly today. Reports of as many as nine people killed in these clashes. The police warning that they were on an anti-terrorism sweep. Tonight, these protesters in the square in the middle of the city.

All right, well one of Venezuela's main opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez has turned himself in to the police. Authorities had issued an arrest warrant for him, accusing him of inciting violence during last week's protest.

Well, here you can see the moment he was taken by the national guard. Speaking to his supporters from the car.

Let's take a listen to what he had to say just before he turned himself in.


LEOPOLDO LOPEZ, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): Today, I present before you, my fellow Venezuelans, our deepest commitment that if my incarceration has the effect of awakening the people so that Venezuela wakes up once and for all and the majority of Venezuelans want a change, we can build that change in democracy and peace. My violent incarceration orchestrated with cowardice by Nicolas Maduro will then be worth it.


ANDERSON: Well, Venezuela is being rocked by rival rallies in recent weeks. Lopez had called for a march of thousands on the country's interior ministry this Tuesday. His supporters can be seen here in white.

Meanwhile, pro-government supporters staged a rival rally, seen here wearing red.

As a showdown loomed, Lopez urged his supporters to leave peacefully before turning himself in.

Our Rafael Romo has more on what is fueling the anger on Venezuela's streets.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Imagine for a moment you're a teenager living in Venezuela. For the last week, you've seen young students like yourself clashing with security forces in riots that left at least three people dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They are firing rubber bullets. They are firing a lot of tear gas. We are peaceful. We do not have weapons.

ROMO: For the last decade, you have seen the number of people killed each year increase nearly 25,000 violent deaths in 2013 in a country of 30 million people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I agree with peaceful protests. I have not come armed. Since Wednesday, I have been out on the streets. I have not come to destroy anything. But, yes, I agree with our voice of protest against all that is happening.

ROMO: Adults talk about inflation higher than 56 percent, but what you notice is that your parents never seem to have enough money to buy staples like cornmeal, milk, chicken, and even toilet paper.

Over the years, you wonder why in a country with abundant energy resources, there are frequent blackouts.

And now you begin to wonder what kind of future awaits you.

DAVID SMOLANSKY, MOARY OF BARUTA, VENEZUELA: (through translator): This is what the youth are suffering nowadays. Those young people who have the opportunity are abandoning the country.

ROMO: To learn the latest about opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who faces an arrest warrant, you have to rely on social media for information. National television, either owned by the government or controlled by it, focused on President Nicolas Maduro's decision to expel three American diplomats and accuse the opposition of organizing the protests to destabilize the country.

Or it's airing concerts promoting the legacy of a man you grew up with, the late President Hugo Chavez, whose socialist policies and iron fist style of government are now at the root of the conflict.

Rafael Romo, CNN.


ANDERSON: Joining me now is Alvarez Sanchez. He's the charge d'affaires at the Venezuelan embassy here in London.

What do you know about Mr. Lopez?

ALVARO SANCHEZ, CHARGE D'AFFAIRES, VENEZUELAN EMBASSY: Well, Mr. Lopez is a politician who in 2002 helped perform a coup d'etat against President Chavez. And even -- well...

ANDERSON: Well, at least allegedly organized one.

SANCHEZ: Yes, indeed. Yeah, along with many other people he signed a decree that did away with the government of democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez, so really he doesn't believe in democracy.

This time he's basically doing the same thing. He's calling for the ousting of the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

ANDERSON: I'm sorry, I'm smiling slightly here. You're talking about a democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez back in 2002. I think a lot of people would disagree with that, wouldn't they?

SANCHEZ: No, not a lot of people. The European Union, went there to observe all the elections that saw President Chavez winning. The Organization of American States went there as well. Many international observers. Many elections took place and they are were won by President Chavez democratically and very clear.

ANDERSON: Interesting. OK.

Well, listen, the U.S. has in the past, what, 24 hours or so been forced to deny claims that it was helping organize these anti-government protests. Is your government at this point convinced that there is meddling afoot from outside?

SANCHEZ: Absolutely.

ANDERSON: And what's the evidence?

SANCHEZ: Well, sometimes history helps a lot. For the past 200 years, practically, the United States has been getting into the business of all of Latin American politics, and particularly Venezuela. It's not for now, but even...

ANDERSON: That's no evidence that they are involved or have been involved now, though, in anything is it?

SANCHEZ: Yeah, we can always...

ANDERSON: Just because there may have been.

SANCHEZ: We can also go back to recent history. WikiLeaks and other documents, official documents by the American government show that indeed they actually helped plot this coup d'etat against President Chavez in 2002.

Now in this particular case, we have individual individual American diplomats who actually have been getting together with organizers of these tragic and terrible events that have been taking place in Venezuela...

ANDERSON: Why do you think people are on the streets?

SANCHEZ: On the side of the government...

ANDERSON: They're unsatisfied aren't they?

SANCHEZ: No, no. On the contrary, you saw lots of people actually going for peace, supporting culture and friendship, supporting the policies of the Venezeulan government. A much, much number of people actually taking the streets of Caracas today on Saturday and many other days, which has been the case for the past 15 years.

ANDERSON: On Monday, Leopoldo Lopez spoke to CNN and gave his reasons for calling these protests. Have a listen.


LOPEZ (through translator): Without a doubt, today we are at a critical moment in our country, the highest inflation in Latin America, scarcity, lack of opportunity, 70 murders every day with impunity, that's the reality to which Venezuelan people are subjected every day. And that same reality that is the effective and economic and social model and the wrong way in which the state operates.

We have raised a flag of change to organize millions of Venezuelans that we want to affect change in a peaceful manner, not in a violent way.


ANDERSON: The main opposition grievances are high inflation, crime, shortage of what are staple supplies in Venezuela. The government is blaming the shortages on saboteurs and profit hungry corrupt businessmen as reported across the international press today.

SANCHEZ: Well, the bottom line is that if he feels like that he can run for office and counter Nicolas Maduro or any other candidate and hopefully for him win and then become president and enact his own policies. But in the meantime, according to democracy, if he really believes in democracy he has to unfortunately for him just participate however he can, but under the government that was elected democratically...

ANDERSON: He handed himself in. Is he -- how will he be treated?

SANCHEZ: Sorry, can you...

ANDERSON: He handed himself in

SANCHEZ: I'm sure he will be treated respectfully, unlike the way he treated a minister of interior in 2002 when he himself, conducting his own policy in the district Chacao (ph) actually brutally abused minister of interior at the time. That was not the way he was treated today.

ANDERSON: Pleasure having you on. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Coming up, we're going to go back to the streets of Kiev tonight. The scene of what are these amazing pictures, sadly clashes continue between protesters and riot police. They have been deadly these clashes. We're going to get a live report from our own reporter there on the ground Phil Black.

And then Arwa Damon speaks exclusively to a defector from ISIS, a group so deadly even al Qaeda have abandoned them.

A smashing statement, this man broke a $1 million vase as a form of protest. We'll tell you why. And look at the history of art and activism across the world. That is coming up.


ANDERSON: Massive fires in central Kiev as Ukrainian riot police advance from the heart of anti-government protest. These are our top stories this hour. At least nine people were killed in clashes earlier today, protesters marching on Parliament and setting fire to the ruling party's headquarters. Let's get the very latest, now, from Phil Black, who is live in Kiev. Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Becky, I'm standing in the middle of Independence Square which, as we know, has been the center of this protest movement for something coming on three months, now, and tonight, it looks more than ever like the site of a revolution.

There are thousands of people here, and they look like they are preparing to defend themselves, to try and hold this space. They've built enormous bonfires, they are building up a -- they have built shields.

We see what, effectively, are ammunition production lines, with people chipping away at the pavements of buildings with bricks and stones and then passing it along one at a time, one post at a time, hand to hand, up until the front line.

I'm standing at what I think is the front line. There is a lot of smoke here, it is very difficult to see through it. There are regular fireworks being let off here, some louder explosions, too, which sound like they could be police flashbacks or stun grenades being used a little further away.

At the end of what has been a very dramatic day here with a great deal of violence, as many as ten dead, we believe, and a lot of language from the authorities which suggests that they could be preparing to clear out this square.

Everything I see around me suggests the people who are here, the thousands, are not prepared to leave quietly, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, Phil, this may be an unfair question, but I'm going to put it to you anyway. I can't work out quite where you are in the square, but can you see what the police are doing, where they're forming, and is it clear what their actions might be?

BLACK: I'm having a lot of trouble hearing at the moment, Becky, I do apologize. I'm standing -- if you can see in the video that I know you're seeing live, if you can see live flames, I'm standing pretty close to those. There are large bonfires that have been built next to what, I think, is the front line.

This is certainly the direction that all the protesters here are facing their efforts, their attentions, their attempts to build up defenses here. We're seeing a lot of timber, as I say, a lot of hardware, a lot of stones, and that is certainly the direction they're firing fireworks off into as well.

It is very close, having been here before, to what one of the defensive perimeters was. I know the police have come from this direction before. I think these protesters clearly fear that that is the direction the police will come from again.

ANDERSON: I just want to clear this up for those viewers who may just be joining us, you've explained that the fires that we see raging on the shots live from Kiev as you and I speak are bonfires. There are fireworks going off. And clearly at this point, you are unclear as to what sort of police action is underway, am I correct?

BLACK: That's correct. I suspect whatever police action, whatever police presence there is, lies just beyond those fires, just beyond the barricades. And unfortunately, because I'm on this side, the smoke is concealing that way at the moment, but that is clearly, as I say, the direction, the focus, of the attention of pretty much everyone in this square.

At the moment, it looks like their efforts are defensive. That is what those fires are for. That is what they are building up larger secondary defensive barrier. Just as I speak now, I can smell and taste teargas in the air. It's close, it's not far away.


BLACK: Excuse me. And it's clear the police are close.


BLACK: That is definitely a police flashback of some kind, some kind of stun grenade we are hearing in the distance. So, I'm not sure if they're coming through here, but they are very close, and clearly the people here fear that it's about to happen, Becky.

ANDERSON: I'm going to let you go and get some water. I know what that feels like. It's tough. Let me just get -- if you can take a glass of water --


ANDERSON: -- so that we can continue to talk, I just want to bring our viewers up to date on exactly what is going on. Now, the opposition saying at least 15 have been killed in these protests, which have clearly turned deadly today. Phil Black on the line, he is in the square.

You're looking at pictures of Independence Square. Those fires bonfires, as described by Phil. Fireworks going off as well. But as we just spoke in the last minute or so, it seems the possibility of teargas now, and a sense that the military, that the police, may be getting closer to these protesters.

Phil, if you can still hear me, I don't know what sort of chance you've had to speak to protesters --


ANDERSON: -- on the ground. Are people going to stick this out at this point?

BLACK: I'm having a little difficulty, as I said, hearing you, Becky, but I think you're asking about the people on this square. It is a mixed crowd here at the moment.

There are certainly what I would describe as the more hardcore, the more prepared element. These are those wearing sort of homemade defensive armor, bicycle helmets, military helmets, goggles, gas masks. These are the ones that are making their way to the front line. These are the ones that are lobbing, it appears, stones, fireworks in the direction that we believe the police line is.

But further back from there, it is a real mixture of ages, genders, men, women, the old, the young. And those groups further back seem to really be involved in supplying those front line people, if you like, passing up the timber, the stone, the supplies that are being used to largely build defensive barricades at this extremity of the square, Becky.


ANDERSON: These pictures coming to you live from Kiev with Phil Black speaking under these pictures for you. He is in that square. Again, the hours to come it is very unclear what will happen at this point, Phil explaining that there is a sense that the police may be making their way towards these protesters.

Already announced from the security forces earlier today that they will be doing an anti-terror sweep. We've certainly heard the Russians describing this as a mess and accusing others, Western powers of meddling in Ukrainian affairs.

This on the day, by the way, that the Russians have provided a $2 billion loan, effectively, to the Ukrainian government. They'd been sitting on that money that had been promised because they had been asking the Ukrainian government to take decisive action. Well, coincidentally or not, as the case may be, that money arriving today as Ukrainian authorities, it seems, have certainly begun to take this decisive action.

The US government says it is appalled by the violence. It's urging President Yanukovych to restart a dialogue with opposition leaders immediately. Well, the US ambassador to Ukraine spoke to us a short time ago, and this is what he said.


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: We have on the phone from Kiev the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. Thanks for joining us, sir. What's your reaction to what's going on right now in Kiev?

GEOFFREY PYATT, US AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE (via telephone): Hi. Well, obviously, we were appalled by the violence that's unfolding. It's been a terrible day in Ukraine's history.


PYATT: We are hoping that the government and the opposition will take immediate steps to deescalate. You can hear in the background right now the bells at St. Michael's monastery, where they're calling people to the defense of the Maidan.

It's clear there are still thousands of people out on the plaza right now, and any effort to take that ground by violence would produce atrocious casualties. They are encouraging the quickest possible return to political dialogue, and we hope that that will happen this evening.

GORANI: And what is the US's role in all of this?

PYATT: Well, we are -- first of all, we are friends of Ukraine. We want to see a Ukraine that is stable and democratic and economically successful. So, we've been involved closely with our European partners throughout this crisis, helping to encourage dialogue, making clear to all sides that violence it is unacceptable.

And making clear our preparedness to work closely with a new Ukrainian government, which we hope they'd be able to put together with a focus on getting the country healthy economically and building a broad -- the kind of broad dialogue that's going to be necessary to rebuild democratic politics here.

GORANI: And on the government's side, there have been accusations, especially after that leaked phone call between you and Victoria Nuland, the assistant undersecretary of state regarding possible scenarios in which the US could get itself involved, try to exert pressure to try to find a solution to end this crisis. How do you respond to these accusations that the US is meddling, essentially, and clearly taking sides?

PYATT: Yes, well, again, I'm not going to talk about any phone calls, but I'll say our role has been an appropriate diplomatic -- working closely with our European partners and engaging closely with the government.

We are Ukraine's friend in this exercise, and we have made clear our view that the solution at this point is a new political compact and the creation of new, broad, multi-party government that can begin the process of political healing here.

I don't consider it meddling when we're in the business of helping to build bridges between the government and the opposition. And in fact, I'm standing in front of the foreign ministry right now where the government has on several occasions publicly welcomed the role that the United States has played in helping to encourage communication here.

The United States has invested a great deal of money and political capital over the years helping to build a Ukraine which is sovereign and independent and democratic, and we certainly don't want to see that slip through our fingers now.

GORANI: Lastly, I want to ask you about something you tweeted. "We believe Ukraine's crisis can be solved via dialogue, but those on both sides who fuel violence will open themselves to sanctions." What does that mean, exactly?

PYATT: What it means is that all policy instruments are on the table for the United States at this point, and we have already exercised authorities here to revoke the visas of several officials directly involved in violence, and we've made clear that additional steps will be taken by the United States to the extent there is grave violence against people, demonstrators.

Obviously, we're still in the process of picking up the pieces of what's happened today, and as you've reported, it's an extremely dynamic and delicate situation still. But the United States wants to see the politics off the streets, back in Ukraine's democratic institutions.

GORANI: All right. Thank you very much. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Kiev.


ANDERSON: Right. That conversation recorded about an hour and a half ago during the "Amanpour" show with the US ambassador. Let me just bring you the latest pictures. These are now live. It is about 10:43 in the evening there.

The State Security Service in a joint statement with the Interior Ministry set protesters a 6:00 PM deadline to end street disorder or face tough measures. "If by 6:00 PM the disturbances have not ended," they said, "we will be obliged to restore all order by means envisaged by the law."

That, the statement from the Security Services earlier on. Phil Black is still with me. What are protesters saying on the ground Phil?

BLACK (via telephone): Becky, it is still building here, certainly. It is a very tense mood, I would say. You're right, the Security Services, Ukrainian authorities used some very strong language today as to intentions about how they're prepared to respond to what they believe violence solely caused by demonstrators, which has resulted in a number of deaths.

And clearly, this protest crowd is taking that threat or that strong language very, very seriously, because all around me, it is a buzz of activity as people prepare quite actively to try and hold this place. And it's a mixed crowd of people doing it, too. It is men and women, middle- aged women, carrying large piles of wood up to the front in the direction that they believe the police are.

And I can taste, still, the teargas that's there. It's not strong. It doesn't appear that it's being used frequently here.


ANDERSON: And Phil, Reuters now quoting Ukrainian police saying that four police officers have died. We are hearing from the opposition there have been 15 deaths. You were describing those who are on the ground -- not sure if I've still got Phil with me. Phil, are you there?

OK, he was describing people on the ground earlier on being a very mixed bag. A far-right militant group riot sector certainly on the ground, calling on people holding weapons to go to Independence Square, center of the revolt as you see there now, to protect it from a possible offensive by security forces. That was being reported by Reuters earlier on today.

As Phil was describing some moments ago, there are armed and clearly protesters who have been getting ready for this sort of, quote, "revolution," as it were, for some time. There are others, men, women, and children, on the sort of outskirts of this main crowd, who are also protesting the Ukrainian president and government's line.

All right. Obviously, we're going to stay with these pictures as long as we can here on CNN, and the more we get from the square, of course, we will bring that to you. Let's take a very short break. We'll be back after this.


ANDERSON: Let's get back to Ukraine. There have been calls right throughout the day for people to refrain from violence, but I'm afraid to say, this is a deadly scene in the center of Kiev tonight.

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who's been trying to broker a power-sharing transition in Ukraine, said that she was deeply concerned about the escalating violence and casualties. She said, "I urge the leadership of Ukraine to address the root causes of this crisis. Political leaders must now assume their shared responsibility to rebuild trust and create the conditions for an effective solution to what is a political crisis."

Well, tell that to the people on the ground tonight, because it doesn't look as if there is much room for rebuilding trust or creating the conditions for an effective solution to anything this evening. Phil Black is on the ground. We're having a few technical difficulties with him. Phil, if you can hear me, just describe what you are seeing and hearing this minute.

BLACK (via telephone): Sure, Becky, yes. So, what we are seeing is, really, the crowd of some thousands of people focused on one direction of Independence Square here.

As I speak now, there is a large timber, triangular structure which I think used to be some sort of Christmas decorations. It is now being toppled over, and like everything else here, it is going to be pulled apart --


BLACK: That was quite a bang. Pulled apart and taken up to the line. What this crowd is focused on doing is reinforcing their barricades. You can see the flames, the large flames on the video that is feeding to you live. Those fires, those bonfires, are effectively still as --


BLACK: -- with defense in mind, as are a lot of other large --


BLACK: -- timber barricades that are being built with whatever this crowd can get their hands on, really. These barricades already existed, but they are being reinforced, they are being built higher and stronger.

And clearly, this crowd anticipates that the police will try and breach those barricades sometime soon. As we speak, I can hear some very loud explosions not too far away. There are constant explosions here, but they are largely from fireworks that are being let off by the opposition crowd.

The louder blasts -- I've checked -- from what I've heard in situations like this before, are some sort of stun grenades or flashguns used by riot police to disperse crowds like this. Heard about them being used through the day in the scuffles and the running battles that have take place on the streets of Kiev.

And I speak, also, there still is in the air a pretty distinctive taste of teargas, and I've seen some of the crowd being treated for the victims of it, washing out their eyes and their mouths to try and diminish those symptoms.

It is tense, there's no doubt about it, Becky. And everyone here, these thousands of people, they are focused on way or another in preparing this square for what they seem to believe is an inevitable confrontation, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. By 6:00 PM, if the disturbances haven't ended, security forces said that they would be obliged to restore order by "all means envisaged by the law." That is now nearly five hours ago. Where are the security forces? As we look at these pictures, Phil, can you describe where the police are?

BLACK: Well, if you can see the flames, the large flames, which I think should be to the right of your screen, that -- those flames are very close to what is the front line here, we believe. There's a lot of smoke coming off it because there's all sorts of things being burnt there, particular tires. That's what -- rubber tires, that's what's responsible for that thick, dark, black smoke. But also, anything --


BLACK: -- this crowd is able to get their hands on. Because of that smoke, I can't see too far beyond it at the moment, but given that that is the direction from where the loudest blasts, explosive sounds are coming from, that is certainly the direction that this crowd is reinforcing. My belief, that is that the security forces are not too far from that point. But I've got no way of knowing just how far.

A short time ago, just a few minutes ago, I saw what looked to be either an elevated fire hose, perhaps even a water cannon, trying to reach some of those bonfires, coming in from the direction over those barricades. They appear to have given up that. But it also suggests that security forces are in that direction and not too far away, Becky.

ANDERSON: Phil, we've -- now we've changed our shot and are now looking at pictures of protesters from one of our affiliates coming to us now. I was wondering whether if people want to get out of this square whether they can.

The pictures that we are looking at are of a very calm group of people. Nobody seems to be moving around very much. There seems to be a real sense of anticipation.

BLACK: I think "anticipation" is the word, indeed. Certainly the closer you move to this front line barricade, the tenser it is, the more anxious people seem. But stretching about half a kilometer back from here, this crowd extends that far.


BLACK: At the moment -- I don't know if you can hear over my phone -- but there's a group on the stage that has been here throughout this crisis, and they're effectively leading this crowd in song. And many of the people around me are joining in, in the song right now.

And as I say, they are a mixed crowd, men, women, all ages. Some of them are actually smiling at times. They seem quite happy. But as I say, those are the ones that are further back from this front line.

But they are still part of this effort, because they are the ones that are sourcing the material, the timber, the stones, the bricks, that are being passed up the line through the crowd to what we believe is the front line barricade, Becky.


ANDERSON: Phil, if you can just hold your phone up into the crowd so we can get a sense of what people are saying, what people are shouting, that would be great.

BLACK: I'll give this a go. At the moment, they're singing. The people -- I'll just see if you can hear it for a few minutes.


ANDERSON: Now, according to Reuters, as we speak, there are reports of two armored personnel carriers moving towards Independence Square. As you've been reporting, Phil, you wouldn't be surprised if this is now the start of what the police have been describing as tough measures to end these disturbances.

BLACK: Yes, they've been saying they have the means to do it, Becky, and little reason to doubt that. But certainly it would seem that this crowd is prepared to do what they can to slow them down.

Many of the people have been saying they won't fight back, exactly, but nor will they easily leave. If there is a confrontation, as we've seen through this crisis, in its third month now, there is usually a hardline contingent at the front that does try to fight back against the security forces whenever they do try to clear out the crowd. But if the majority stand their ground for as long as they can, that will certainly slow their progress.


BLACK: Having said that, I don't think anyone here realistically expects that they could hold out against the resources and the apparatus of the Ukrainian Security Service indefinitely, if they make their attempt to clear this square tonight, Becky.

ANDERSON: All right. We are looking to get Ruslana Lyzhychko on the phone. She was a Eurovision Song Contest winner for Ukraine back in the early 00s. She is, though, or has been in the square almost every night since these -- protests began. She's been on stage, she's been demonstrating alongside the opposition.

She's been in Brussels today, from where we think we're going to get her on the phone, talking to politicians there. I'll let you know, Phil, as and when we get her. But as we move towards what is the top of the hour here and into the fifth our of what the police have said would be their clearing process, your -- your sense is that things are developing.

Let me just get you this. This is a story that's exploding on social media right now. Take a look at Twitter, there's nearly 250 tweets on Ukraine every minute, and no real surprise on that. And you can see where they're coming from as well.

Remember, there are players in this, some accused of meddling, some not. But there are Western powers agitating in this mess. There is also influence, of course, from Russia as well. Phil Black is in the square. Again, Phil, just explain what you're seeing and hearing.

BLACK (via telephone): Yes, sure, Becky. There is a crowd on stage here, cheering this crowd on, supporting them, leading them in song with loud -- and also at the moment, giving loud, rousing speeches.

And before this stage are thousands of people. And they are all involved in some way in what is clearly an effort that is designed to hold this space for as long as they possibly can.

But at the front line, what we have are those that are truly prepared with helmets, gas masks, homemade body armor. They seem willing to put themselves directly in the police line to try and stop any possible assault through this square.

And then behind them, thousands of people who are, essentially, trying to give those people supplies, who are passing forward large amounts of timber, stones, bricks. Some of the timber is being used to fuel enormous bonfires here that are clearly being built as some sort of defensive precaution. And other parts of timber --


BLACK: -- are being used to reinforce, build up the barricade in the direction that we believe the police are currently stationed, Becky.

ANDERSON: How big is that front line crowd, Phil?

BLACK: Hundreds, certainly. These are the ones that I've been describing as the more hardcore element, the ones that are, as I say, seemingly prepared to put themselves directly in harm's way to try and repel any possible police advance.

These are the ones that we've seen at the front line of many of the clashes that have taken place on the streets of Kiev in recent weeks and months. They are wearing helmets, they are wearing gas masks. Some of them have built shields from pieces of timber.

There is no evidence that they have any sort of offensive weaponry, none that I can see. At the moment, they only thing they seem to be throwing in the direction of where we believe the police are are fireworks, which make a little bit of a noise and some color in the air. But beyond that, not too much. Having said that, as I say, we're seeing lots of stones and bricks being passed for ward to --


BLACK: -- these guys on the front line. So there is, perhaps, the potential that some of them are prepared to actually strike back, to fight back if there is some sort of move on the square. But many of the people here today have been saying they won't --


BLACK: -- fight back, but they will resist. They will try and slow down any sort of police operation her in Independence Square.

ANDERSON: Phil, thank you for that. Phil Black is in the square in Kiev. A day of violence, deadly violence. Six police killed, according to authorities, 15 others killed, according to the opposition. We're going to take a very short break here on CNN. That was CONNECT THE WORLD, thank you for joining us.