About 150 policemen from the Ukrainian internal affairs ministry, held hostage by anti-government protesters on Thursday morning, were released around midnight, and tensely transferred between buses out of Kiev surrounded by a hostile crowd.
The policemen were captured when protesters re-took part of Maidan or Independence Square earlier in the day, but the bus carrying them was soon surrounded by angry protesters who refused to let them go.
Baying for blood they chanted “Maidan, take them to Maidan” and blockaded the road.
Many of them had been involved in bloody clashes and gun battles with police and security forces on Maidan and the nearby conservatory for the past two days, in which around 75 people were killed, scores injured and hundreds arrested.
One unnamed female protester said the police should not be allowed to go till demonstrators being held by government forces were released.
“We will not let them go, because we have ours detained in remand centres where they have been for two weeks to a month, so until they come out of remand back here to Maidan, we will keep these ones here,” she said.
“We will give them food, we will love them and respect them but they will stay here in Maidan,” she added.
Members of parliament from different opposition parties came out into the street to try and calm tempers, as protesters shouted and threw bricks at the bus, smashing windows, with occasional brawls and scuffles breaking out.
A member of parliament for the nationalist Svoboda party (All-Ukrainian Union Party), Igor Miroshnichenko, told the protesters the policemen had been used as human shields by the rest of the police forces who were responsible for attacks on the protesters - riot police, special forces known as the Berkut and snipers who were seen shooting at demonstrators near the conservatory on Thursday.
Miroshneshenko urged them to be allowed to go peacefully.
“Those who gave them orders to hold shields and clubs and who turned them into canon fodder, they left them to rot, they expected us to tear them apart, to kill them as they did to our comrades, as they tortured them,” he said, speaking into a loudhailer.
“But today I want to tell you a simple thing: we don’t want revenge against them, these are not the right people, these are children against whom we don’t have to seek revenge,” he added.
Internal Affairs Ministry troops are made up of youths, many of them still teenagers, and form the lower grade of the gamut of Ukrainian security forces.
Churchmen also got involved and stood on top of the bus urging people to show mercy towards the policemen.
One church leader said the policemen had given themselves up willingly and deserved their forgiveness.
“In this bus there are policemen who gave themselves up to us. If we harm them then no one will join our side any more,” he said.
The members of parliament, church leaders and some of the right wing protesters from Maidan then organised another bus for the policemen after demonstrators attacked the first one with rocks, broke the windows and punctured a tyre.
Lines were formed on both sides of the road to create a safe passage on a street leading up to St Volodema Church to transfer them to a new bus and drive them out of town.
After the protesters formed a human chain on both sides of the road to keep the angry mob away from the policemen the youths, huddled together, heads bowed, walked up the road, for a tense few minutes, before they were finally brought to safety and driven off.
As the drama unfolded, a trio of foreign ministers from German, Poland and France were holding marathon talks with president Viktor Yanukovich after shuttling between him and the opposition.
They took a break around 8 a.m. (0600GMT), and were due to meet again at midday.
Their EU colleagues in Brussels imposed targeted sanctions on Ukraine and threatened more if the authorities failed to restore calm.
The Health Ministry said 75 people had been killed since Tuesday (February 18) afternoon, which meant at least 47 died in Thursday’s clashes.
That was by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago.