STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Thousands of riot police jostled with protestors in Ukraine overnight. The protestors want their country to sign a trade deal with the European Union. The elected president of the country does not. At issue here is whether their nation tilts a little more toward Western Europe or toward neighboring Russia. NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line with us from the scene of these protests. And Corey, what's happening now?
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. We're at one of the barricades where last night protestors were just faced off with the riot police. Things right now are feeling relatively calm. The demonstrators here are tired, of course, but elated because the riot police pulled back. The riot police started to leave around 10 o'clock this morning. When we were here around 4:00 this morning, it seemed like a really desperate situation for the protestors.
On all sides, there were just these (unintelligible) of armored riot police with shields pushing in at them and all the demonstrators had were these cheap orange plastic hardhats. A few of them had taped boards to their forearms as a kind of armor to stave off the police clubs. But for now, at least, it seems that the protestors have prevailed. The riot police tore down some tents and some barricades last night.
We heard that some people were injured and some people were arrested. We don't know yet how many, but the protestors did manage to prevent the police from capturing the city hall, which protestors have been using as their headquarters.
INSKEEP: Sounds - I'm trying to figure out what may have happened here. It sounds like the police were under orders to try to clear the area without using too much force and under those conditions, they were unable to scare off the protestors. Is that what happened?
FLINTOFF: That seems to be exactly the case. In fact, when we were here last night, there were - it was - protestors and riot police were almost nose to nose. Protestors were pressed up right against the riot police shields. It was like a football (unintelligible) almost, people pushing back and forth. But the riot police never went into full charge mode and so eventually they just had to back off.
INSKEEP: Does the United States have any leverage in this crisis which involves the future of Ukraine?
FLINTOFF: I'm sorry, Steve. It's very noisy here. I didn't hear that question.
INSKEEP: That's okay. And interrupt me to describe what's happening if things do begin happening there. I wanted to know if the United States has any leverage in this situation.
FLINTOFF: Well, we don't know that for sure. The top U.S. diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, is here in Kiev. In fact, she came yesterday to try to facilitate a dialogue between the protestors and the government. And, of course, while we were waiting for that, last night there was this attempt to drive protestors out of the square and that seemed by many people as kind of a slap in the face to the United States and the EU.
They have top diplomats here who are trying to negotiate a settlement and the government has suddenly sent police and tried to clear the square by force. So right now, the Secretary of State John Kerry sent a rather angry message saying that the United States is disgusted with the Ukrainian government's decision to try to use force last night and saying that that's something that's not acceptable in a democracy.
INSKEEP: Corey, because it's getting a little noisier there, we've got a few seconds left. Can you give us a little more of what you're seeing and hearing?
FLINTOFF: Well, what I'm seeing and hearing are crowds of people. The crowd here in the square is growing. In fact, it was growing all night and, you know, one of the big challenges here was whether the protestors would be able to sort of bring back the middle class people who filled this square last weekend. You know, there were more than 300,000 people last weekend and it looks like they may, in fact, be able to do that.
INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Ukraine on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.