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Reporter's notebook: The worst day I've seen in Kiev

By Todd Baxter and Lateef Mungin, CNN
updated 5:48 AM EST, Mon February 24, 2014
Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, cheer Friday, February 21, after news of an agreement between the government and opposition leaders. Violence recently intensified in Kiev's Independence Square, which has been the center of anti-government protests for the past few months. Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, cheer Friday, February 21, after news of an agreement between the government and opposition leaders. Violence recently intensified in Kiev's Independence Square, which has been the center of anti-government protests for the past few months.
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Unrest in Ukraine
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN cameraman describes filming chaos, clashes, gunshot victims
  • He sees five bodies in a stairwell, more piled up in lobby of his hotel
  • "A day ago this looked like a typical hotel lobby. Now it was a makeshift morgue," he says

Editor's note: CNN cameraman Todd Baxter shares his first-hand account of covering the conflict in Ukraine in a revealing reporter's notebook.

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- The gunbattle was so close it rattled the walls.

I grabbed my camera and pointed it out the window, looking toward Independence Square. From more than 10 stories up, I filmed the chaos. Protesters were all around, ramming into the lines of police officers. Black smoke hung in the air. Gunfire rang out.

I saw a medic shot in the arm. He was helped to safety. I saw at least 20 wounded people carried away. But the gunmen could not be seen. There was panic. People looked skyward, scanning rooftops for snipers. At one point, a crowd of protesters stormed this hotel. They searched, floor to floor, trying to confirm a rumor that snipers were shooting from here.

CNN crew sees Ukraine violence firsthand

Then there was another rumor about what was in the lobby of this hotel.

I clutched my camera and ran down the stairs. Little did I know then that I was about to see even more misery in what would turn out to be the worst day I've seen since arriving in Kiev.

As I ran, I noticed bullet holes in the stairwell windows. Three had pierced through a second-floor window. Three more had shattered through another window.

And then I saw the bodies.

There were five bodies underneath the stairs, lifeless feet peeking out of the white sheets that covered them. There were more bodies lined up just feet from the reception desk. They were wrapped in white sheets and red splotches bled through.

A priest paced back and forth. We were told that the priest had blessed the bodies even though people were still trying to find out who the victims were. Protesters went through the pockets of the fallen, searching for identification cards.

We were told that the wounded and dying had to be brought to the closest place. That's why this hotel had been chosen. There were no ambulances, just people struggling to drag in the fallen.

This happened just hours after the Ukraine government declared a truce in the fighting here that has shocked the world. Clearly, the truce had not held.

A day ago this looked like a typical hotel lobby. Now it was a makeshift morgue. I counted 11 bodies. We were told later that in all 13 people had been rushed into this hotel, three of them clinging to life. None of them made it.

On the other side of the lobby someone was wiping streaks of blood off the white marble floor. Outside, gunfire still rang out.

And they continue to bring in bodies.

CNN's Todd Baxter dictated from Kiev, Ukraine. Lateef Mungin wrote from Atlanta.

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