News / Europe

    At Ukraine Peace Talks, Eastern Leaders Assail Central Government

    In Ukraine, Mixed Expectations for Unity Talksi
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    Al Pessin
    May 17, 2014 9:58 PM
    Kyiv resumes national reconciliation talks without armed Russian-backed militants, as Ukrainians remain divided on whether the process will yield results. VOA's Al Pessin has more.
    VIDEO: Kyiv resumes national reconciliation talks without armed Russian-backed militants, as Ukrainians remain divided on whether the process will yield results. VOA's Al Pessin has more.
    VOA News
    Lawmakers and officials from eastern Ukraine on Saturday strongly criticized the fledging central government, accusing it of ignoring legitimate grievances in areas of the regions controlled by pro-Russian militias fighting for independence.
     
    Last weekend's unofficial referendum in favor of independence for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions "expressed the will of the people," said Valery Holenko, chairman of Luhansk’s regional government, according to the Associated Press.

     
    Ukrainian officials including Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, second from left, participate in peace talks, Kharkiv, May 17, 2014.Ukrainian officials including Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, second from left, participate in peace talks, Kharkiv, May 17, 2014.
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    Ukrainian officials including Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, second from left, participate in peace talks, Kharkiv, May 17, 2014.
    Ukrainian officials including Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, second from left, participate in peace talks, Kharkiv, May 17, 2014.
    Holenko acknowledged the referendum had no legal standing, but said it had significance as “a protest vote.”
     
    The second round of peace talks, in the eastern city of Kharkiv, came hours after Ukraine's election board warned that instability threatens next week's crucial presidential elections and after violence erupted again. A rebel leader seized at a checkpoint near Kharkiv was freed by armed supporters, and gunfire broke out near the separatist stronghold of Slovyansk.
     
    No insurgents were invited to the “national unity” talks, brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to defuse Ukraine’s worst crisis since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse. The insurgents, described by Kyiv as terrorists, say they are willing to discuss only the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops and recognition of the regions' independence.
     
    Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged the assembled eastern leaders to resist armed separatists and support the central government's efforts to devolve powers to the regions.

    Story continues below photo gallery:
    • Pro-Russian gunmen sit on an armored personnel carrier with the words read "Battalion Vostok (East) " as they patrol in Donetsk, Ukraine, May 20, 2014.
    • Coal miners sit on a bus after finishing their shift at a coal mine outside Donetsk, Ukraine, May 20, 2014.
    • Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, speaks to citizens whose homes were ruined by shelling in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, May 20, 2014.
    • Yekaterina Len cries inside the remains of her house damaged by shelling as her grandson stands near her, in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, May 20, 2014.
    • Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko meets with supporters in the Cherkasy region, central Ukraine, May 20, 2014.
    • A pro-Russian militant defends a front line position with a machine gun, Slovyansk, Ukraine, May 19, 2014. 
    • Residents watch the flames from a damaged gas pipe that was hit by a mortar bomb, during fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian militants, outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, May 19, 2014. 
    • Pro-Russian militants detain three men they suspect of spying for the Ukrainian government in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, May 18, 2014. 
    • A pro-Ukrainian activist prepares to hoist the Ukrainian flag in the town of Velika Novosyolka, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, May 17, 2014.
    • A masked pro-Russian militant stands behind the barricades at a checkpoint blocking the major highway outside Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, May 17, 2014.

    "You have got in your home, in Luhansk and Donetsk, armed terrorists who are funded by Russians and those who fled Ukraine and want to seize our land," Yatsenyuk said, according to the AP. "We're not going talk to robbers and terrorists. They will not be telling the Ukrainian people how to live in our country."
     
    He urged the eastern leaders to disarm the insurgents, "regain the power and start a political dialogue."
     
    Holenko, Luhansk’s leader, called upon the central government to stop its “anti-terrorist operation” in the east, the AP reported.
     
    On Saturday, the Central Election Commission called for Kyiv authorities to take urgent action to ensure security in the east, saying the rebellion could prevent almost 2 million people from voting May 25. It said it couldn’t prepare for the vote in the east because of threats and "illegal actions" by separatists who have taken control of more than a dozen towns and cities since early April.

    Rebel leader seized, freed

    Also on Saturday, Valery Bolotov, the self-proclaimed governor of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region, was detained at a checkpoint after returning from Russia, where he’d been treated for wounds from an attack Tuesday, border guards spokesman Oleh Slobodyan said. About 200 armed separatists went to the checkpoint to demand his release, freeing him in a firefight with machine guns and grenades.
     
    Separatist leader Valery Bolotov was detained at a checkpoint near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 17. He's shown in photo from May 7, 2014.Separatist leader Valery Bolotov was detained at a checkpoint near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 17. He's shown in photo from May 7, 2014.
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    Separatist leader Valery Bolotov was detained at a checkpoint near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 17. He's shown in photo from May 7, 2014.
    Separatist leader Valery Bolotov was detained at a checkpoint near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 17. He's shown in photo from May 7, 2014.
    “We are trying to find out whether there are victims,” Slobodyan said.
     
    In Andriyivka, a village four kilometers (2.4 miles) from Slovyansk, Ukrainian troops exchanged gunfire with pro-Russian forces determined to protect the village, resident Yuri Shevchenko said.
     
    "We will not be pushed out of here,” Shevchenko said. “This is our land, this is our motherland. Our children and grandchildren are living and will continue to live here. Why do they come here, why are they shooting at peaceful people? People can no longer live in Andriyivka."
     
    Slovyansk and the surrounding area has seen some of the worst fighting in recent months as pro-Russian militia continued calling for the Donetsk region’s independence from Ukraine’s central government in Kyiv.
     
    Despite a month-long offensive, the Ukrainian military has failed to wrest back control of the main industrial regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where rebels have now declared their own independent republics in defiance of Kyiv and the West.
     
    A challenging election
     
    The West sees the election as crucial to defusing the crisis on Europe's eastern flank and preventing the former Soviet republic from disintegrating further after Russia's annexation of Crimea.
     
    But Russia questioned how an election taking place amid fighting could possibly meet democratic norms.
     
    "Can elections held amid the thunder of guns really meet the democratic norms of the electoral process?" Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, urging Kyiv to immediately halt "punitive action against its own citizens."
     
    It also said the government was using the unity talks "as a cover for aggressive action" and urged Western nations to tell Kyiv to "launch real and not phony work toward national reconciliation."

    Pressure from the West
     
    But the United States and its allies applied further pressure on Moscow Friday to allow the election to go ahead.
     
    In a phone call, President Barack Obama and French counterpart Francois Hollande "underscored that Russia will face significant additional costs if it continues its provocative and destabilizing behavior," the White House said in a statement.
     
    Obama has already drafted an executive order for sanctions across key sectors in Russia such as banking, energy, defense and mining, adding to punitive measures already imposed by Washington and Brussels.
     
    In total, 36 million Ukrainians are eligible to vote May 25 in an election expected to deliver victory to billionaire chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko.
     
    The vote was called by the new leaders installed in Kyiv after months of sometimes deadly pro-EU protests that led to the February ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, viewed by many as corrupt and authoritarian.

    Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Eduardo Linares-Batres from: Guatemala City
    May 17, 2014 2:35 PM
    Eastern Ukraine separatists “leaders” are nothing but Putin’s puppets voicing instructed straw-man arguments. They’ll be rewarded for their connivance by being incorporated into the corrupted ranks of the minuscule ruling-clique of Russia/USSR-2.
    In Response

    by: churbany from: Russia
    May 18, 2014 1:45 PM
    So called Ukraine's government is nothing but USA's puppets voicing instructed straw-man arguments. It's paid by USA to drag NATO closer to Russia and for suppression of Russian minorities. Any talking about human right abuses abruptly stopped when Russians are abused..
    In Response

    by: Dmitry from: Russia
    May 18, 2014 11:59 AM
    You would know. You are the Doctor...from Guatemala.

    by: ChristyM from: Canada
    May 17, 2014 2:17 PM
    "Can elections held amid the thunder of guns ..." Are they kidding? Didn't Russia just say the referendum was legal? I know I heard the thunder of guns. Russia wants it both ways - legal if it favors them, illegal if not. Putin can't stand the idea Ukrainians might want independence from everyone - but closer ties to the EU.

    Kiev patriots are BRAVELY struggling towards free and open elections, something pro-Russian separatists are fighting to prevent.

    Good luck Kiev!!
    In Response

    by: Jacklyn Denise from: USA
    May 18, 2014 7:36 AM
    ChristM, what a bunch of horse-hocky. Are you a Kiev shill? Of course the VOA reporting barely passes muster as most of its facts are straight from the White House. Moscow did NOT say the referendum was "legal", Moscow said the referendum should be "respected". As for Kiev "struggling for free and open elections", it is the cabal in Kiev who with the help of Obama, overthrew an elected President, kicked anti-Maidan members out of Parliament, replaced regional governors, appointed all the presidential candidates and changed the Ukrainian constitution, all without a single vote of the public.......that's neither free, nor fair, nor democracy.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    May 17, 2014 11:42 AM
    LIKE ALWAYS? -- Like Always, the world can see how the US, EU, and NATO interference in the politics of (non-European countries), bring nothing but violence, death, destruction, and sometimes war like in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and now Ukraine? -- (WHY?) -- Why does the US, EU, and NATO always try to solve other (non-European Union countries) political problems by violence, death, and destruction, and sometimes war, instead of by diplomatic means? -- (and try to bring peace?)...
    QUESTION? -- Has the US, EU, and NATO ever brought peace to any of these countries they have politically interfered in? -- (ANSWER?) -- NEVER have they brought anything but violence, death, destruction, and sometimes war, (and it continues on to this day), and they continue to blame others for their political interference, causing millions of displaced homeless people, and hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, and destroyed countries, and war !!!
    THE WORLD IS WATCHING what the US, EU, and NATO is now bringing to Ukraine?

    by: Baldurdasch from: metropol
    May 17, 2014 10:35 AM
    Oh vapors! the border is "porous', the government is "helpless", the economy is shattered, the Maidan is rosy, the National Guard is deployed, the war is on terrorists, Mariupol has been liberated by the local oligarch, and the rest of the east has bad people stopping the government's tanks from delivering the ballot boxes.

    Glorioski what is a new nation to do? When the cavalry isn't coming and nobody except Turchy wants to fight the evil Putin? Certainly not talk to those who seem to be in control.

    But make a nice 'special status' for the 'good ones', they've never had one of those before.

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