Washington Times on April 13, 2014, published an AP report on Ukraine’s government turning to force to try to restore its authority in the vital industrial east. It announced it was sending in troops to try to quash an increasingly brazen pro-Russian insurgency, despite repeated warnings from the Kremlin. Excerpts below:
Accusing Moscow of fomenting the unrest, Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a televised address that such a “large-scale anti-terrorist operation” would ensure Russia did not “repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine’s east.” Turchynov pledged to offer amnesty to anyone surrendering their weapons by Monday morning.
Earlier on April 13 Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia outside the eastern city of Slovyansk – the first reported gunbattle in the east, where armed pro-Russian men have seized a number of key government buildings to press their demands for referendums on autonomy and possible annexation by Russia, following the pattern set by the vote in Crimea last month. A Ukrainian security officer was killed and at least two others wounded.
Calling such attacks a “Russian aggression,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post that special forces of up to 12,000 people will be drawn from volunteers who will be tasked with resisting attacks from pro-Russian forces in their local areas.
Unrest has spread to several municipalities in eastern Ukraine, including the major industrial city of Donetsk, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was the support base for Yanukovych. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east widely fear that the new pro-Western Ukrainian government will suppress them.
Several town halls and other government buildings were occupied by crowds of supporters of the referendum drive to give eastern regions wide powers of autonomy.
A police station and the local security services headquarters in Slovyansk, some 90 miles (150 kilometers) west of the Russian border, were the latest to fall to storming on April 12 by well-armed and effectively coordinated militia. Both were still in the hands of gunmen Sunday, despite a government drive to retake them.
The police station was surrounded by a reinforced line of barricades, but there was a less noticeable presence of the automatic rifle-toting pro-Russian gunmen of the day before. Hundreds of residents beyond the barricades sang songs and shouted in support of the men seizing the building.
In Luhansk – a town of 420,000 across the border from Russia – heavily armed men still control the security services building. In Donetsk, 80 miles to the west, an occupied regional government building is now serving as the headquarters of a self-declared autonomous region billing itself the Donetsk Republic.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement…accusing “the Russian special service and saboteurs” of fomenting unrest and pledging to present “concrete evidence” of Russia’s involvement at a summit on Ukraine in Geneva on Thursday.
Two rival rallies in another regional capital in eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv, turned violent on Sunday when a group of pro-Russian protesters followed several pro-Ukrainian activists, beating them with bats and sticks, Interfax Ukraine news agency reported. Interfax quoted Kharkiv authorities as saying 10 people were injured at the rallies.
An attack was also reported on a police station in the nearby city of Kramatorsk. A video from local news website Kramatorsk.info showed a group of camouflaged men armed with automatic weapons storming the building. The website also reported that supporters of the separatist Donetsk Republic occupied the administration building, built a barricade with tires around it and planted a Russian flag nearby.
Regional news website OstroV said three key administrative buildings were seized in another city in the area, Enakiyeve. In Mariupol, a city on the Azov Sea just 30 miles from the Russian border, the city hall was seized by armed masked men. Local news website 0629.com.ua said 1,000 protesters were building a barricade around it, while armed men raised the Russian flag over the building.
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev, Lynn Berry in Moscow, Maria Sanminiatelli at the United Nations and Stephen Braun in Washington contributed to this report.