Tuesday 21 October 2014

We're helpless to defend against Russian militias, Ukraine admits

Roland Oliphant Horlivka

Published 01/05/2014 | 02:30

Members of Ukraine's State Security Administration (R) clash with members of the Euromaidan movement's self-defence units during a rally outside the cabinet of ministers building in Kiev April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kravchenko/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Members of Ukraine's State Security Administration (R) clash with members of the Euromaidan movement's self-defence units during a rally outside the cabinet of ministers building in Kiev April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kravchenko/Pool
A man uses a fire extinguisher as members of self-defence units of the Euromaidan movement attempt to prevent members and supporters of Ukrainian far-right radical groups (back) from taking part in a torch-light procession in central Kiev April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Konstantin Grishin (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A man uses a fire extinguisher as members of self-defence units of the Euromaidan movement attempt to prevent members and supporters of Ukrainian far-right radical groups (back) from taking part in a torch-light procession in central Kiev April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Konstantin Grishin

Ukraine's government yesterday admitted that it had lost control of two regions in the east after police and security service units defected to pro-Russian rebels and further government buildings were taken over.

Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president, said the security services were "helpless" and "unable to carry out their duties of protecting citizens".

He added: "Moreover, some of those units are either helping or cooperating with terrorist organisations."

Hours earlier, gunmen seized more police stations and administrative buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the country's industrial heartland and the centre of a pro-Russian insurgency.

"I will be frank: today, security forces are unable to quickly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control," said Mr Turchynov in Kiev.

Pro-Russian gunmen seized the town hall and a police station in Horlivka, a community of 258,000 people in Donetsk region. The men, who wore the green camouflage uniforms of the self-styled "People's Militia", were already in the town hall when staff arrived for work at 9am. By the afternoon, they could be seen building a barricade of sandbags outside. The takeover followed the seizure of the regional administration building, the prosecutors' office and the police headquarters in Luhansk, the capital of the neighbouring oblast, or region. Together, the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk account for 15pc of Ukraine's population and 9pc of its land.

They also hold the nation's biggest industries and almost 80pc of its coal reserves. Donetsk is the most populous region in Ukraine with 10pcof the country's people. Dozens of police stations and local government buildings across these areas have been seized since early April.

While daily life continues mostly as normal around the occupied buildings, the failure of police to resist the takeovers has left several towns, including Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and Horlivka, effectively in the hands of pro-Russian rebels.

As well as admitting the loss of Donetsk and Luhansk, Mr Turchynov said that neighbouring regions, notably Kharkiv and Odessa, were threatened in the same way. "Mercenaries and special units that are active on Ukrainian territory have been tasked with attacking those regions. That is why I am stressing: our task is to stop the spread of the terrorist threat first of all in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, has seen clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters, but the separatists have so far failed to establish a foothold.

Tensions have risen in the industrial and university city since Gennady Kernes, the mayor, was shot and nearly killed on Monday.

Mr Kernes is recovering from surgery in Israel, raising fears that insurgents may take advantage of his absence .

Rebels loyal to the self-proclaimed "People's Republic of Donetsk" say they want a referendum on whether the region remains within Ukraine, declares independence, or joins Russia.

A date has been set of May 11, although whether the activists can organise the vote in the whole region is unclear. The pro-Russian leaders claim broad support, but polls suggest a mixed picture. Donetsk is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, but 57pc of the population identified themselves as ethnic Ukrainians in the 2001 census, compared with 38pc Russian.

A recent survey by the Kiev-based International Institute of Sociology found that 28pc of Donetsk supported joining Russia, while 52pc favoured staying in Ukraine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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