(ABC News) -- Smoke rose over Kiev today, as Ukraine’s capital city continued to burn following a night of deadly violence between riot police and anti-government protesters.
At least 26 people have died and hundreds of others were hospitalized, Ukrainian Health Ministry officials said.
At least 10 police officers are among the dead.
Officials claim that police officers did not use firearms during the rioting – and that some of the protesters' injuries were likely inflicted by fellow activists.
Police have erected checkpoints along the major routes into town today, halting cargo trucks to search them before allowing drivers to proceed into Kiev.
President Viktor Yanukovych blamed opposition leaders for the riots.
In a statement published online early Wednesday, Yanukovych said that he had already made several attempts to compromise, but that opposition leaders “crossed a line when they called people to arms.”
Yanukovych said opposition leaders had to "draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces," or else "acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation ... will already be of a different kind."
The defiant tone of the statement left little hope of a compromise to resolve the crisis, which erupted three months ago when Yanukovych shelved an association deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Tuesday’s violence was the deadliest in the recent string of anti-government protests. Protesters fought back against police who tried to dismantle barricades on the square’s perimeter, rolling tires into flames to fuel a wall of fire that prevented police from advancing.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko – a former heavyweight champ who left boxing to pursue politics – urged the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square that has been the heart of the protests.
“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as tents and tires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.
Many heeded his call.
“This looks like a war against one’s own people,” said Dmytro Shulko, 35, who was heading toward the camp armed with a fire bomb. “But we will defend ourselves.”
As police dismantled some of the barricades on the perimeter of the square and tried to push away the protesters, they fought back with rocks, bats and fire bombs. Against the backdrop of a soaring monument to Ukraine’s independence, protesters fed the burning flames with tires, creating walls of fire to prevent police from advancing. A large building the protesters had used as a headquarters caught fire and many struggled to get out.
Speaking over loudspeakers, police urged women and children to leave the square because an “anti-terrorist” operation was underway.
The protesters appeared to sense that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point. As the tents and also some tires went up in flames, defiant protesters shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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