KIEV, Feb 21 (Reuters) - 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.”