Ukraine crisis: Vitaly Klitschko forced to cancel rally as violence flares in Crimea
'Ukrainian Unity' rally organised by Vitaly Klitschko is cancelled in the east, as demonstrations in the southern Crimea region turned violent
VITALY Klitschko, the former boxer turned Ukranian presidential hopeful, has been forced to cancel a rally in the eastern city of Donetsk, as pro-Russian protests in the city turned violent.
Across the eastern regions of the divided nation, efforts to stage "Ukrainian unity" rallies were crushed by an angry pro-Russia backlash.
Supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin broke up a gathering in the Crimean city of Sevastopol – beating up the crowd, as Cossack guard units used whips to brutally thrash some of the activists. Dozens of men chased and savagely beat some of the roughly 200 people who had gathered in Sevastopol to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the country's national poet, Taras Shevchenko.
Similar scenes broke out in the east, at the point where Mr Klitschko's rally was due to take place in Donetsk, after a handful of defiant women turned up despite the cancellation of his rally, to hold Ukraine's blue and yellow flag. They faced a baying crowd of thousands, waving imperial Russian flags and Soviet banners.
"Klitschko, go," they shouted.
Eventually the women were forced to run for their lives as the mob broke through police lines, beating at least one of the women before she was rescued by security officials.
"I am afraid there will be war," said Natalia Zadorozhuaya, a housewife. Tearfully, she confessed she was relieved the Klitschko appearance had been cancelled. To have gone ahead would have been too provocative when their opponents were already on the march.
"I don't know how I am going to get out of here safely but if the pro-Ukraine side had gathered here in large numbers there would have been a real fight," she said. "I think we need help."
Mr Klitschko had warned that Russia was sending provocateurs to Ukraine to stir up divisions in the east. Despite the strong local hostility to politicians from western Ukraine that spearheaded the revolution against Viktor Yanukovych, Mr Klitschko tried to show he could tap into a groundswell for keeping the country intact.
"Russia is using pure propaganda and trying to create division based on language. Tourists from Russia are here to stir up trouble," he said. "We in Ukraine have to show our unity."
The threat of violence was particularly marked in Crimea, the peninsula seized by Russian forces, where local leaders are arranging a referendum on joining Russia.
A group of young men wearing heavy boots and T-shirts emblazoned with USSR menaced the marchers in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
"We came to show we're here," said one of the men, Dima Yurteev. "To show that we're the majority."
Mr Putin threw Russia's full weight behind the Crimea vote on Sunday, even though it has been rejected by the interim government in Kiev and the West.
"[President] Putin underlined in particular that the steps taken by Crimea's legitimate authorities are based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula's population," a Kremlin statement said.
The statement emerged after Mr Putin talked on the phone with Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Downing St said Mr Putin had promised to pursue a diplomatic outcome to the crisis.
However William Hague warned that Russia could trigger a "real shooting war" if it began meddling beyond its positions in Crimea.
"It would bring about the great danger of an actual, real shooting conflict. There is no doubt about that," he said. "It would be wrong to conclude that Russia has won in some sense. I think this will turn out over time to be quite a big miscalculation.
"The long-term consequences will be very significant for Russia."
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine prime minister, on Sunday announced he was travelling to Washington for urgent talks on Wednesday. Forces in Crimea were last night holding 30 Crimean border officials after taking over their post and had set a deadline for soldiers in Evapatoria to surrender.
A Ukrainian military spokesman based in the region said a further 200 vehicles had been spotted coming ashore at Kerch on the eastern shore.
Meanwhile Mikhail Khodrkovsky, the former oil tycoon, released from decade in Russian prisons, told Kiev's Independence Square that his country shared responsibility for the deaths of protesters last month.
Damien McElroy, Telegraph.co.uk