Ukraine: Separatists Seize Buildings and Arms, Declare Sovereignty


Radio Free Europe screen cap

Pro-Russian separatists stormed and seized government buildings in three cities in eastern Ukraine yesterday, declaring sovereignty in one and demanding referendums for independence in all three.

In the city of Donetsk around 2,000 protesters gathered. According to Agence France-Presse, "nearly 100" of them reportedly broke off and captured regional government buildings, flying Russian flags and possibly plotting to use explosives.

Radio Free Europe writes that the protesters "proclaimed the creation of a separatist republic… called for a referendum on the region's future to be held by May 11 and asked for Russia to send a 'peacekeeping contingent' to protect the separatists." Activists in Luhansk and Kharkiv seized an armory and administrative buildings, respectively, and also called for independence referendums.

"The situation will come back under control without bloodshed," Ukraine's interior minister said yesterday. "That is the order to law enforcement officers, it's true. But the truth is that no one will peacefully tolerate the lawlessness of provocateurs." Several police officers were injured and in one case officers did use tear gas. The minister noted today that all buildings are operating normally again.

"I respect various political views, including those of our opponents. But separatism and the use of arms against our own state, which carries a direct threat to the security and life of our citizens has nothing to do with politics," said the country's pro-western interim president Oleksandr Turchynov in a speech today, blaming the Russian government for orchestrating a plot to destabilize Ukraine and said his government plans on taking "anti-terrorist measures against" provocateurs.

The interim prime minister warned that Russia has tens of thousands of troops ready only 19 miles from the Ukrainian border.

The BBC highlights the fact that despite that sizable ethnic Russian populations in eastern regions, "opinion polls there have shown considerable support for a united Ukraine." The independent Russian news agency Reed published an article today arguing that the pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine has very limited support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the situation, saying that instability in Ukraine is indicative of a greater western threat and that his Federal Security Service (the successor to the KGB) may have to crack down on non-governmental organizations within Russia, "develop Russia's border infrastructure in the Arctic," and help stabilization efforts in Central Asia once the U.S. leaves Afghanistan.

For more Reason coverage of Ukraine, click here.