What's Happening in Kiev, Ukraine?

PHOTO: A protester uses a catapult during clashes with riot police in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, Feb. 19, 2014.
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Three months of largely peaceful protests came to a bloody head this week as thousands of riot police attacked a protest camp in Kiev, Ukraine, resulting in clashes that left at least 26 people dead, including 10 police.

Burning tires and fireworks, lobbed like missiles toward police, lit up the night sky, as stun grenades and reports of gunfire echoed through the city's medieval streets.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged more than 15,000 protesters camped out in Independence Square to defy police orders to leave.

Where is Kiev?

Kiev is the capital of Ukraine, a country in Eastern Europe that used to be part of the old Soviet Union but still maintains close political ties with Russia.

What led to the protests initially?

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in December. This wasn't just about a trade deal, it was a symbolic decision about the future of the country: Would Ukraine be allied with Europe or with Russia?

That desire to be part of Europe still exists among the protestors, but their struggle has evolved into outrage at the corruption and cronyism that plagues Ukraine's government.

Yanukovych has at times met protesters with force since December, but clashes escalated this week.

Why didn't Yanukovych sign the deal with E.U.?

President Yanukovych was under a lot of pressure from Russia, which in the past has cut off gas exports and banned Ukrainian products when Ukraine does things that the Kremlin doesn't like. That's a lot of pressure and the Ukrainian economy is already hurting. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Yanukovych, who has been Putin's ally, to Moscow for marathon meetings just before the EU deal was called off. It's believed that Putin pressured him into pursuing a deal with Russia instead.

In the end, Yanukovych pledged to join a Russian-led customs union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russia also pledged billions of dollars in emergency loans. The latest $2 billion payment was made on Monday.

If so many people want a Western-oriented government, how did Yanukovych get elected?

Ukraine is pretty much split down the middle. The people in the industrial eastern half generally speak Russian and favor closer ties with Russia. Those in the western half mostly think the opposite. They prefer to speak Ukrainian and look towards Europe as an example. It's mostly that western half that is protesting. The eastern half voted President Yanukovych into office, and by most accounts he has retained his political base there.

Yanukovych tried to steal an election in 2004, but protests known as the Orange Revolution forced a new election that he lost. But the people who took over did not last long in office and Yanukovych won the next time.

Is Vitali Klitschko, the protest leader, also the professional boxer engaged to "Nashville's" Hayden Panettiere?

Vitali Klitschko is the reigning WBC heavyweight champ. He's a member of parliament and started his own opposition party, whose name means "Punch." He's already announced plans to run for president in 2015, and he's been a vocal leader of the protests. His brother, Wladimir, also a champion boxer, has been out in the protests as well but is less visible. He's the one who's engaged to Hayden.

So what happens now?

President Yanukovych isn't backing down, but neither are the protestors. Overnight, Klitschko and other protest leaders visited President Viktor Yanukovch's office for talks on resolving the crisis. By early, Wednesday, however, little was resolved and the clashes continued.

Weeks ago, Yanukovych offered the protest leaders positions in the government. But the opposition rejected the deal, insisting that Yanukovych step down.

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