Pastor Ralf Haska can be found in Maidan square most days. “Normally I'm in the prayer tent, where people are very, very sad and tired,” he told The Local on Thursday afternoon, hours after Germany's foreign minister arrived for talks with President Viktor Yanukovych.
But for Haska, Thursday was different. He could not make it to the prayer tent.
“There are injured people everywhere, thick black smoke, I've seen people building Molotov cocktails,” he said. “We feel hopeless, we can't stop the violence and everyone is very, very tired.”
“I was in the square around 10am and met a man who had just dragged the bodies of his two friends from the barricades,” he added.
They were, Haska believes, among some of the very first to die this morning in Kiev, where by Thursday at least 37 have been killed – mostly shot dead by police in the anti-government uprising sweeping Ukraine.
“It was too dangerous to go right into the middle,” he said. A short-lived ceasefire between the government and opposition dissolved on Thursday morning, when protesters moved into a newly police-occupied area of the square and officers opened fire.
“I can hear gun shots from here, I can smell the smoke and I can hear people screaming through microphones that the police are using automatic weapons,” said Haska, pastor at the St Katherina German Evangelical-Lutheran church round the corner from Maidan square.
There were, he confirmed, injured protesters taking refuge in St Katherina. “There's only two or three right now but we're expecting many more and we have doctors ready,” he added.
He said he knew Germans involved in the protests, but was yet to meet them. Church staff were hoping that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would pay a visit after talks with Yanukovych. “We thought he might drop by, but he didn't,” said Haska.
Photos of priests trying to defuse tensions in the square in front of riot police and armed protesters have been some of the most eye-catching images to come out of Ukraine.
“You have to remember that around 80 percent of Ukrainians identify themselves as Christian of some sort,” said Haska, who has been in Kiev with the church for over four years.
Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a press conference on Wednesday condemning the violence and stating that "everything must be done to launch a political process".
Reporters were not allowed in the closed meeting between Steinmeier and his counterparts from Poland and France with Yanukovych.
Foreign ministers from 28 EU states were set to discuss sanctions later on Thursday. Head of Ukraine's Presidential Administration Andriy Klyuyev warned that this would make the situation worse, like “throwing oil into a fire”.