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Pro-Russian Separatists Plan Referendum in Eastern Ukraine

  • Brian Padden

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of a group that calls itself the "Donetsk People's Republic", which is in control of a regional government building in the city of Donetsk, says plans are under way for a federalization referendum on May 11 to give greater autonomy to the region.

“We have everything ready for this, but we don't really want to reveal our cards right now because many in the mass media - I don't mean you - are falsifying the information," Pushilin said. "So it's better to keep everything quiet.”

Last month, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula after its predominantly Russian-speaking residents voted "yes" in a similar referendum.

Sergei Gerasimov, a supporter of the Donetsk militants, wants more autonomy but does not want to become part of Russia.

“Me myself, I would stay in Ukraine but with federalization, with our own rights," Gerasimov said. "I think Ukraine should be united.”

Mediators from Europe's OSCE security body met with pro-Russian separatists and local officials in eastern Ukraine to try to find a peaceful resolution to the standoff. The OSCE's Mark Etherington said the talks were constructive.

“They explained their position," he said. "We also discussed the need for dialogue and the de-escalation of tensions and, of course, the need to refrain from violence."

But in Kyiv, a spokesperson for Ukraine's security service said the government "retained the right to react adequately to crimes" taking place in eastern Ukraine.