The Interpreter

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Ukraine Liveblog Day 48: Pro-Russian Protests in the East.

Pro-Russian protesters have stormed administrative buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk today, while other rallies have been held in Dnipropetrovsk. Yesterday, the Russian state news agency, ITAR-TASS reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry has received “sacks of letters” asking for protection from Russia. There have been many rallies and repeated, temporary occupations of government buildings in the East of Ukraine by pro-Russian activists, but today’s activity, when taken with the Foreign Ministry’s claim, is a worrying sign that Russia may claim these events as a provocation for renewed pressure on Ukraine for imposed federalisation or worse.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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A map of events today


View Ukraine – April 6, 2014 in a larger map

Below we will be making updates.


2306 GMT: Reuters reports that The Czech President, Milos Zeman, has said that NATO forces could be deployed on Ukrainian territory in the event of a Russian incursion into Eastern Ukraine:

“The moment Russia decides to widen its territorial expansion to the eastern part of Ukraine, that is where the fun ends.

There I would plead not only for the strictest EU sanctions, but even for military readiness of the North Atlantic Alliance, like for example NATO forces entering Ukrainian territory”

As Reuters notes however, while the Czech President is nominally the head of the armed forces, the government, headed by the prime minister, decides foreign policy. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s government has been cautious with regards to economic sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Crimea, warning of possible economic damage.


2250 GMT: Ukraine’s Inter TV channel has broadcast incredible CCTV footage of the flight, following the fall of the Yanukovych government, of former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and former the Finance Minister of Revenues and Duties, Oleksandr Klymenko. The two can be seen pushing through border security at Donetsk airport while their bodyguards attack staff:


2015 GMT: There have been reports today that some journalists have been intimidated and threatened by pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine. UNIAN reports that in Donetsk, separatists demanded that Ukrainian journalists leave the Regional Government building and surrounding square as they assaulted it, saying that they did not trust “deceivers”.

People with St. George’s ribbons are walking up to photographers on the square, demanding ID, figuring out which media they represent, and then asking “Ukrainian journalist-traitors” to clear off.


2015 GMT: In a worrying echo of events in Crimea, a popular pro-Russian twitter account is claiming that preparations are under way to take control of the airport in Donetsk:

In Donetsk the people are preparing to take control of the airport


1830 GMT: Separatist protesters have captured the Regional Government building in Kharkiv. UNIAN reports that, over the course of only 10 minutes, a few hundred protesters managed to push past two hundred police officers who were guarding the entrance to the building.

Photo: Slava Mavrichev
Photo: Slava Mavrichev

The Russian flag is now flying from the window of the second floor reception room.

UNIAN notes that:

Those taking part in the storming chanted “Berkut”, and “The police are with the people”. During the assault, some of the police officers stepped aside.”

UNIAN reports that protesters threw firecrackers and fireworks at the police lines during the protest.


1747 GMT: The separatist activists, who stormed and occupied the SBU building in Luhansk earlier, have raised what many on Twitter have identified as the flag of the Russian VDV airborne forces:

As VDV troops were both involved in the invasion of Crimea, and are reported to be waiting near the border near Belgorod, this is a worrying sign of more direct Russian involvement.


1734 GMT: Local news agency MOST-DNEPR has photos of the comparatively small pro-Russian rally in Dnipropetrovsk today. They report that there were only around 300 protesters today, who were largely nostalgic Communists, still affectionate towards the USSR. They called for a local referendum and closer ties to Russia and Belarus while opposing integration into the EU and the mobilisation of Ukrainian troops.


1724 GMT: Prestupnosti.net reports that a Ukrainian activist in Mykolaiv has been attacked and beaten by a group bearing St. George ribbons travelling in a convoy of cars carrying Russian flags. In addition to beating the Maidan activist, who received head injuries, the separatists warned the witness to “pack their bags and leave town.”


1710 GMT: A video has been uploaded to YouTube showing what the author claims are Right Sector activists leaving a square in Kharkiv under police protection from an angry crowd of pro-Russian demonstrators. The activists are crouching along the floor in a human corridor formed by police as the crowd try to break through the line to reach them. The uploader claims that the pro-Ukrainian activists had thrown firecrackers and teargas at the pro-Russian rally. The user signs off with “Anti-Maidan Kharkiv”.


1704 GMT: Shamil Khakirov from Donetsk notes on Twitter that one of the songs that has been playing at the occupied Regional Government building is The Red Army is the Strongest of All


1558 GMT: RFE/RL reports that the body of Vasyl Sergiyenko, a Ukrainian nationalist activist and member of Svoboda, has been found in the woods near Vygrayev, 120 kilometers southeast of Kiev.

The statement said Sergiyenko’s head was bashed in, his kneecaps mangled, and there were stab wounds near his heart and neck. Sergiyenko helped organize the protests against Yanukovych in February and was a member of one of the nationalist opposition’s self-defense groups that periodically clashed with the police. The local prosecutor’s office confirmed the discovery of the body.

 


1554 GMT: The activists in Donetsk have been communicating today via an online radio channel linked to walkie talkies onsite.

While we are not confident enough at distinguishing between accents to verify this, Myroslava Petsa reports that the callers on the radio channel have often spoken in “thick Russian accents”.

 


1550 GMT: Maidan Odessa reports that pro-Russian activists there will hold an ‘anti-Maidan’ rally today outside the Regional Government building at 8PM local time today (1700 GMT)

 


1500 GMT: Pro-Russian activists are currently occupying the Regional Government building in Donetsk, a live stream is being broadcast one of the separatists within is here:

Live streaming video by Ustream

Myroslava Petsa, foreign correspondent for Ukraine’s 5 Channel, reports that the separatists are demanding that the regional government hold a referendum on joining Russia:

 

Furthermore, they are threatening to dissolve the regional government if their demands for an emergency session tonight are not met, and to form their own “people’s council”, reminiscent of the moves made by separatists in Crimea on the eve of the Russian invasion.