News / Europe

In Eastern Ukraine, Breakaway Vote Looms Amid Fears of Violence

A man walks past a burning barricade near the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine May 10, 2014.
A man walks past a burning barricade near the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine May 10, 2014.
Violence is flaring and anger rising in eastern Ukraine, less than 24 hours before a controversial referendum calling for a yes-or-no vote on whether to break away from Ukraine and form separate "people’s republics." 

Explosions from an abandoned armored vehicle sent people in Mariupol scurrying to safety.

They are afraid of a repeat of Friday’s fierce fighting when daylong clashes between Ukrainian security forces and separatists that left at least 20 dead. An inebriated separatist militant had just torched the tracked infantry vehicle, unconcerned about ammunition on board exploding.

Nerves are frayed in this southern industrial area, one of dozens of cities in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are trying to follow Crimea’s lead and break away from Ukraine. 
The city has seen violent flare-ups before, but the latest clashes were the worst. Residents who came out Saturday to view the burned-out remains of the city's administration building and central police station seethed with anger, nearly all of it directed at the government in Kyiv, and at Ukrainian ultranationalists from the shadowy group Right Sector, who are accused of joining the battles. 

Buinessman Igor says fighting broke out during a parade celebrating Victory Day, the May 9 anniversary of the Soviet Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany. He says he headed for the police station after hearing gunshots, and found about 2,000 protesters gathered there. 

Army snipers shot at locals, according to Igor, who saw at least three people wounded by gunshots. 
  
Videos posted online and others seen by VOA appeared to show nervous Ukrainian soldiers firing on unarmed protesters. In other images, armed protesters are firing at the troops. Who shot first is not clear. 
A man reacts as he stands on top of burnt-out armoured personal carrier near the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine May 10, 2014.A man reacts as he stands on top of burnt-out armoured personal carrier near the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine May 10, 2014.
Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said 20 separatists were killed and four were captured during the battle to restore government control over the police station.

But locals have a different version. 

Artyom Sorokolit, a human-rights worker in the city, says the police defected to the separatists’ side, so the army attack was directed at both the separatists and local police. 

Pro-Russia militants rebuilt barricades Saturday and returned to the local administration building, now half destroyed by fire. The administration building has changed hands twice in the recent days' fighting. 

Mariupol is not alone in seeing an uptick in violence. In Donetsk, armed separatists raided office of the International Red Cross Friday night. They stole medicines and seized six workers, five of them Ukrainians. The Red Cross workers were freed later. 

In some eastern towns, banks have been attacked and abductions are on the rise in many areas. 

Fighting also flared overnight in the flashpoint town of Slovyansk, 100 kilometers north of Donestk. 

Locals are critical of the tactics being used by the Kyiv government as it seeks to restore its authority over the region. 

The Ukrainian government's off-and-on counter-insurgency operations seem  to rely on hit-and-run tactics that are not making substantial gains against the separatists but have further inflamed public opinion. 

Mariupol businessman Igor says during weeks of agitation and clashes, most people in the city hoped that Ukraine woiuld stay united. But the two major battles this month - in Odessa, where scores of poeple were killed on May 2, and Friday’s clashes in Mariupol - have turned sentiment. 

Authorities in Kyiv are in a difficult position. If government forces do nothing, the separatists can act with impunity, but trying to restore law and order risks losing the battle for hearts and minds.

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Comments
     
by: gen from: Japan
May 11, 2014 4:26 AM
Unfortunately,the stuation of Ukraine is lawless.This is maidan square protest in Kiev begining.This is the cause of these troubles.The government in kiev was established illegitimate.They say "law and oder". Most of people would not trust.
Most of pro russians feel fear after the government's so called anti-terrorist operations.Most of pro russian might consider the government in kiev a terrorist govrnment.They would think that the government in kiev should get out of kiev.But it is impossible.because they are backed by West.So they would have no choice but to do referendum.Then they would want to show "Kiev governnent is NO."
Who really was behind the maidan square killing protest in kiev? Who made use of right sectors in the maidan? This ignited a civil war in Ukraine.

In Response

by: Andor from: USA
May 12, 2014 12:33 AM
The West judges Ukraine, but most Americans won't find it on the maps.
There are many mistaken assumptions regarding Ukraine have been made, and, as we know, The "Assume" makes "ASS of U and ME"
1. The Ukrainians are one people, united in their support of change (they are not!)
2. Supporting the Euromaidan’s ouster of president Yanukovytch (unelected new Junta agreed with the CIA Brennan's advice "To hit dissidents fast and hard")
3. Failing to stand behind the February 21 agreement (Ukraine did NOTHING, but blame Russia for not abiding by hte agreement)
4. Ignoring the rise of the Radical Right (The Right Sector openly boasted that they put the Junta in power, and now Junta owes them)
5. Labeling protesters in the East and South “pro-Russian” and “separatists.” (They were not. All they were asking was FEDERALIZATION) Of course now, after blood was shed, it is too late
6. Blaming Russia for Ukraine’s problems (Russia did not foment the unrest, stupid law of banning Russian language, the "lustrations" Right Sector demanded, the lawlesseness, the people shot on the streets - that was the cause)


by: gen from: Japan
May 11, 2014 4:18 AM
Unfortunately,the stuation of Ukraine is lawless.This is maidan square protest in Kiev begining.This is the cause of these troubles.The government in kiev was established illegitimate.They say "law and oder". Most of people would not trust.
Most of pro russians feel fear after the government's so called anti-terrorist operations.Most of pro russian might consider the government in kiev a terrorist govrnment.They would think that the government in kiev should get out of kiev.But it is impossible.because they are backed by West.So they would have no choice but to do referendum.Then they would want to show "Kiev governnent is NO."
Who really was behind the maidan square killing protest in kiev? Who made use of right sectors in the maidan? This ignited a civil war in Ukraine.


by: gen from: Japan
May 11, 2014 2:45 AM
Russian are angry with who were behind mad and kiliing protest in maidan square in Kiev.What was the cause of these trouble.
Speaking of the annexation,what about the annexation of California and Texas republic after Mexican war?


by: greg from: San Francisco
May 10, 2014 11:56 PM
To Cyress from: UK

We helped to seize government buildings during Maidan in Kyiv just two months ago. The people in the south east are using the same tactic. The ethnic Russians in Ukraine are living there for 1000 years. Where they should go?


by: Cyress from: UK
May 10, 2014 10:47 PM
All this shows is the citizens of Ukraine standing up to defend there nation and sovereignty. The Pro-Russians are the minority. The country was polled and only 33% of the people in the south east want to join Russia. 77% want to maintain current borders. In the rest of the country only 3% want to join Russia and 97% want to remain Ukraine. If the minority want to join Russia then move. Do not expect that you can demand your will upon the rest of your country. This unrest and all of the deaths are because of the Pro-Russians. There is not one country out there that would allow there ethnic minority to stand up and demand succession. What if the 5.5 million Tatars in Russia decided to stand up and demand Succession? Do you think that Russia would sit back and allow the Tatars to seize government buildings. How about if the 30.5 million Mexicans in the United States decided they wanted Mexico to annex Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Do you the the United States government would sit back and allow then to take over government buildings. This argument can be repeated for almost every country in the world because every country has a ethnic minority. There is not one country that would sit back and allow its nation to be divided and annexed by another country willfully. Really the bottom line is that if the ethnic Russians in Ukraine do not like living in the Ukraine then they should leave. No one is forcing them to stay


by: Anna Epelbaum from: Champaign, IIlinois, USA
May 10, 2014 7:00 PM
The USA is expecting now any day the great crash of stock market, The unemployment in EU is looming. Eu DID NOT WANT for 23 years to have Ukraine, as the member. They never helped Ukraine, they were interested in it, EXCLUSIVELY, as in market, like in the third world countries. Is is of NY surprise that the entire eastern and southern part of Ukraine wants under the circumstances to join Russia, or, even to stay independent, which, I can't actually imagine how. Now even Boehner tried to activate the house against Russia, but nobody wants to pay what this House and this Senate have done to the USA.What is about "MINDING OWN BUSINESS" dear politicians of the USA?How are you going these parts of Ukraine, where so alive still the memory of NAZIS crimes, to accept the rule of neo-Nazis lead government?

In Response

by: Steve from: Houston
May 11, 2014 6:22 PM
Oh and James, you're just not thinking rationally if you think that the United States stock market is not *rigged*, and has been for many years.

In Response

by: James McQuaid from: Lansing, MI
May 10, 2014 10:04 PM
Anna, we are not expecting "the great crash of stock market". "The unemployment in EU" is not looming. The leadership of Ukraine is not neo-Nazi. NATO is not "Fascist".

The Putin regime must withdraw its thugs from Ukraine or face truly severe consequences.


by: illya from: edmonton
May 10, 2014 3:06 PM
What exactly the constitution of us has to do with Ukraine ?its obvious who is responsible for deaths of innocent people. The Nazis of interim government are responsible .people are for united Ukraine.

In Response

by: David Schneier from: Alabama
May 11, 2014 12:01 AM
I lived in Ukraine for 12 years and have continued to visit regularly for 6 more years. I was in Odessa last week when many died. Why is it that people have so easily forgotten that it wa Stalin and Russia who starved to death or exiled to their death 7 million Ukrainians in the early 1930's? And why when we lived in Ukraine did some of the people long to have Stalin back in power if he was still alive? And why hasn't Putin let the right of self-determination apply to Chechnya and the "stans." The fact is that the Russians have played the role of the fascists in Eastern Europe for so long that most of us can't see what is really going on there. We have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear.


by: Wiktor Protsenko from: Kyiv
May 10, 2014 12:31 PM
In its unannounced war against Ukraine, Russia relies on covert operations which fall squarely within the definition of "international terrorism" under 18 U.S.C. § 2331.
Specifically, armed operatives of Russia, acting under disguise, attempt to influence the policy of Ukrainian government by intimidation or coercion. They also try to affect the conduct of a government by assassinations and kidnapping, taking by force government buildings, police posts and military bases of Ukraine.
This activity is being conducted on large scale and over prolonged time period, despite condemnation by the USA, G-7, NATO, EU and UN.
Please sign the petition urging the White House to officially designate Russia as "State sponsor of terrorism” - http://wh.gov/lwuL9
Such status of country would outlaw business of American companies with Russia. Even considering of the petition by Senate and President of USA creating great inconvenience Russian authorities.

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