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Separatists Hold Ukrainian Cities; Local Defense in Kyiv Stands Firm

In eastern Ukraine, separatists continue to seize and occupy government buildings, while in Kyiv, the capital, protesters continue their occupation of Maidan Square. Despite an agreement made in Geneva requiring all groups to disarm, there's no end in sight to the standoff.

Crowds hit the streets in Kyiv for a rally celebrating May Day, but protester Marina Pryluky says this demonstration is a symbol of unity far removed from the separatist violence in the east.

“We are not afraid of provocative actions. We are here in peace. It would be inappropriate for provocateurs to change that. We have police here for that reason," said Pryluky.

In Kyiv, paramilitary forces have camped in the area surrounding Maidan Square for months. Activists like Gregoriy say they're there to protect the people of Ukraine.

“We are here for the truth. We are here for our country, for Ukraine. The fact that Russians have come to this land is unjust. That they have made this tragedy real and killed a lot of innocent people... that is also unjust," said Gregoriy.

An agreement reached last month in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the EU called for the disarming of illegal groups in Ukraine.

Kyiv sees separatist groups as violators of the agreement. Moscow says Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary groups like Right Sector should be forced to disband, but they say their actions are in defense of Ukraine while separatists violate the constitution.

“The Geneva agreement does not concern Pravy Sektor [Right Sector]. It concerns only the separatists acting in the eastern parts of Ukraine," spokesman Artjom Skorpatsky said.

Even if the Ukrainian government had the will to disarm the paramilitary groups, it may not have the muscle.

“Now, the Ukrainian government is not in control of the situation," said analyst Sergey Slobodchuk. "They simply cannot disarm all the military groups."

Political leaders say the only way to move forward in Kyiv is to reestablish peace in the east.

“There's pressure from Russia, and that's certainly a negative," said union leader Mikhailo Volynets. "We're able to mobilize. And, when everything is organized in a peaceful way, it will be possible to resolve all these questions without force."

The Ukrainian military recently started nighttime drills in Kyiv. And separatists keep encroaching in the east. Tensions continue rising, just weeks before a presidential election in Ukraine.
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    Arash Arabasadi

    Arash Arabasadi is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a decade of experience shooting, producing, writing and editing. He has reported from conflicts in Iraq, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Ukraine, as well as domestically in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Arash has also been a guest lecturer at Howard University, Hampton University, Georgetown University, and his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife Ashley and their two dogs.