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Ukraine's Second Largest City Shows Divided Views on Russia

  • Daniel Schearf

Russia's moves to take over Ukraine's Crimea have sparked fears that Russian-majority areas in the country's east could be next.

Pro-Russia protesters faced off with riot police across from Kharkiv's regional government building. They say anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists are taking over and they support Moscow's occupation of Crimea, but insist they are not separatists.

The demonstrators, who say they are all Ukrainian citizens, also want the European Union and United States to mind their own business, says protestor Igor Gusov.

"We'll settle it ourselves. We don't want war," he said. "We need peace. We want peace. We want to live in a peaceful country. And, all questions regarding Crimea, regarding everything, we'll settle this without you, without America. America, go home, leave!"

But just a day later, thousands of others rallied for Ukraine's unity -- voicing anger at Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive moves on Crimea.

The protesters welcomed U.S. and EU help to pressure Russia to back down.

"If he's been asked by political outcasts to bring in his troops, that doesn't mean it was our entire people's [wish]," said Natasha, an anti-Putin protrester. "We Russians living in Ukraine, we don't want him here. We are not against Russian people. Russian people are good people. But, we are against Putin. Putin is a fascist.”

Despite their shared history and culture, separate schools are helping divide ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, says Kharkiv University history professor Sergey Kudelko.

"In this city, there has never been clashes on an ethnic basis. The only large city in Ukraine where there have never been clashes along ethnic lines in all its history," he said. "And, I believe that we will preserve, even now in this very uneasy conditions, this peace that is the most precious thing, human life, and harmony. So, the politicians should have enough wisdom to defuse this difficult situation."

In the meantime, Ukrainians are feeling the emotional brunt of Moscow's intervention.

"Putin has done the most terrible thing. He has already sewn discord between our two peoples," said one woman at the Ukraine unity demonstration. "I am saying this on your camera that I hate Russia, I hate the Russian, and I am Russian. That's what he's done."