Pro-Russian activists storm buildings in Ukraine
Published 05/05/2014 | 02:30
Pro-Russian protesters were on the march in two Ukrainian cities yesterday, storming the police headquarters in Odessa and surrounding another public building in Donetsk.
Infuriated by the deaths of 32 of their number in the fire in Odessa on Friday, pro-Kremlin activists have escalated their campaign against the new government in Kiev. However, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, insisted that his administration had not lost control of the eastern region of Donetsk.
An offensive by Ukraine's army against pro-Russian insurgents appeared to gain ground yesterday when troops sealed off the rebel-held town of Slavyansk. But in Odessa, the local police offered no resistance as a pro-Russian crowd raided the headquarters and released up to 67 people who were arrested on Friday.
Flags across Ukraine flew at half mast as the country observed the first of two days of mourning for the bloodshed in Odessa, which claimed at least 40 lives.
Mr Yatsenyuk promised a "full, comprehensive and independent investigation" of the tragedy, adding that he personally blamed the police.
The violence in Odessa began when pro-Russians attacked a demonstration in favour of Ukrainian unity. The police allegedly failed to intervene – and the crowd then turned on the pro-Russians and drove them into the House of Trade Unions, which caught fire.
"I personally blame the security service for doing nothing to stop this crackdown," said Mr Yatsenyuk. As for the situation in the east, he said: "We haven't entirely lost control," adding: "Much will depend on the local population: whether they support peace and security or those who are supported by the Russians."
Mr Yatsenyuk accused Russia and its allies inside the country of waging a "real war" designed to "eliminate Ukraine and eliminate Ukrainian independence".
Mr Yatsenyuk's government has tried to restore its control over the Donetsk region by force. After two false starts, this military operation appeared to be gathering momentum: soldiers blocked the main road linking Slavyansk, the epicentre of the insurgency, with Donetsk yesterday. The town was "completely surrounded" by government forces, a rebel spokesman said.
Kiev must take every decision under the shadow of Russia's possible response. President Vladimir Putin was believed to have massed 40,000 troops near Ukraine's eastern border, giving himself the option of invading.
The leaders of the "Donetsk People's Republic" promised to hold a referendum on the future of the region.
Yesterday, hundreds of their supporters marched down Universytetska Street through the heart of the city, waving the regional flag and chanting slogans against Kiev.
Most carried sticks or bats and a few had firearms. Their march ended outside the local prosecutors' office, which they prepared to occupy.
Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will visit Moscow on Wednesday for talks on the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin said in a statement after Mr Putin spoke to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, by phone. (© Daily Telegraph, London)