DONETSK, UKRAINE — Ukraine’s acting president has given pro-Russian protesters who have occupied state buildings in the east of the country until Monday morning to disarm or face an assault by security forces.
A Ukrainian soldier was lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to the chest outside the eastern city of Slovyansk Sunday.
He was among the first casualties in what many fear could be an imminent conflict.
A witness says a group of gunmen opened fire on the soldiers as they prepared for an assault on pro-Russia protestors, who have taken over state buildings in the city.
Authorities say one member of the security forces died. Russian media report at least one protester also was killed.
Pro-Russia groups are reinforcing their positions ahead of an expected assault. At least two more state buildings were stormed Sunday in Mariupol and Yenakievo.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, accused Russia of instigating the uprisings.
In a speech Sunday, Turchynov said the National Security and Defense Council made a decision to start a large-scale “anti-terrorist operation” employing the armed forces of Ukraine. He added, “We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of Ukraine.”
The president gave protestors until 8 a.m. local time Monday to disarm or face an assault by the army.
In Donetsk - ground zero of the pro-Russia protests that erupted a week ago - organizers tried to stir the crowd with Soviet-era military music.
But there was palpable fear among the demonstrators. One man, wearing a mask and wielding a metal rod, refused to give his name.
“Of course I’m concerned,” he said. “It’s moving closer. The powers that think we shouldn’t exist are getting closer.”
Many families turned out in support of the protesters Sunday. Among them was Olga.
She said, “Of course we are in fear. And that’s why we are staying here…. Do we look like terrorists? We don’t have masks and we don’t have weapons. Do I look like a terrorist?” – she asked.
Kyiv’s ultimatum has brought the prospect of conflict another step closer. The protesters now must decide how far they are prepared to take the fight.