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Globe in Kiev: Opposition leader says Ukraine has reached 'most dramatic period' in its history

A protester in Kiev yells "Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine" behind a makeshift barricade January 26,2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Kiev Sunday denouncing President Viktor Yanukovych and calling him a "murderer."

The march began after a funeral at St. Michael's cathedral for Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a 25-year-old protester killed by police last Wednesday during protests near Independence Square. The church was packed with mourners and thousands of people filled a nearby square outside. After the service the coffin was paraded through the city and into the square where demonstrations against Yanukovych's government have been taking place for two months. The crowd chanted "gangsters out", "gestapo", "revenge" and "murderers" as they marched past the Interior Ministry building and headquarters of the country's police. When the coffin reached the square chants of "hero" rang out.

"This is the most dramatic period in the history of my country, that's crystal clear," opposition party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Globe and Mail after the funeral. The country "is definitely falling in the wrong direction."

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Mr. Yatsenyuk, who leads the Fatherland Party, said the opposition is sticking to its demands that Mr. Yanukovych resign and that the government repeal recently adopted laws that ban protests. Mr. Yatsenyuk also wants to re-write the constitution, eliminate the presidency and pull the Ukraine closer to the European Union.

Another opposition leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, of the Svoboda Party, said in an interview that finding any compromise with Mr. Yanukovych is getting more difficult as the protests spread to a dozen cities across the country.

"The further it continues the way it has been going it's going to be very difficult to find a compromise," he said. "Yanukovych has to resign that's the categorical demand of the people."

Mr. Yanukovych has made several offers to end the protests but so far he has stopped short of promising to resign. Last week he said he would recall parliament to discuss the opposition demands. On Saturday, he also proposed that Mr. Yatsenyuk become Prime Minister and that former boxer Vitali Klitschko, who leads an opposition party called Ukraine Democratic Alliance for Reform, become deputy Prime Minister. They both turned it down.

Tensions in Kiev have been running high since Saturday and no further discussions are planned.

Hours after the talks ended Saturday, hundreds of protesters stormed Ukraine House, a conference centre near Independence Square. The protesters had found out that the police were using the centre as a possible staging area and 200 officers inside when it was surrounded.

The demonstrators shattered the windows along the front of the building, threw Molotov cocktails inside and fired off several rounds of fireworks, causing flames to briefly break out inside. "Come join us," some shouted at the officers while others sang the national anthem. Down the street at a series of barricades just in front of a long line of police, officers shone two massive flood lights into the crowd.

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That did little to stop the activists along the barricades, who kept up pounding on drums and burnt out cars while burning piles of tires. After a standoff that lasted most of the night, the police officers were allowed to leave the building and some were treated by medical staff. The filed out to cries of "shame" from the crowd.

By Sunday morning, the building was being used as a rest area for protesters. Inside the lobby several protesters wearing motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs stood guard, while others slept on mats in some of the meeting rooms. Hot drinks and sandwiches were also being handed out.

Protesters believe the police used the roof of the centre to shoot at demonstrators. On Sunday they produced bullet cartridges they said had been found inside.

The police have denied using live ammunition. On Sunday, the Interior Ministry also accused the protesters of trying to take the police hostage.

"The goal of the protesters was taking the policemen captive and exchanging them for arrested or detained activists," the ministry said in a statement.

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