Separatism in eastern Ukraine

On the evening of Sunday 6 April pro-Russian protesters occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine, demanding referendums to be held on joining Russia. Ukraine’s acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuk blamed Russia for the seizures, as interim President Olexander Turchunov cancelled his visit to Lithuania.

Separatists

Protesters barricaded themselves in government buildings in the cities Kharkov, Luhansk and Donetsk. At an emergency cabinet meeting Yatsenyuk said “The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troop to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow”. He continued "It is an attempt to destroy Ukrainian statehood, a script which has been written in the Russian Federation, the aim of which is to divide and destroy Ukraine and turn a part of Ukraine into a slave territory under the dictatorship of Russia”. Yatsenyuk said Russian troops remained stationed within 19 miles of the border.

Ukrainian acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the main regional administration building in Kharkov had been cleared of all ‘separatists’. In Lushansk, police claimed protesters raided the armory, police had consequently blocked all excess to the city. In the city of Donetsk, a group of pro-Russian demonstrators, Rossiyskiy Sektor, had proclaimed the city’s independence and announced a referendum to be held no later than 11 May. Footage showed a speaker telling the assembly: “I proclaim the creation of the sovereign state of the People’s Republic of Donetsk”.

In an attempt to quell the protests, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk traveled to Kharkov while his first deputy, Vitaly Yarema, was on his way to Donetsk. Also, National Security and Defense Council Secretary, Andriy Parubiy, and Security Service Chief Valentyn Nalyvatchenko had been sent to Luhanks, said Victoria Syumar, the Defense Council Deputy Secretary. She added the government had “all the authority necessary to take action against separatism”.

International reactions

The developments in East-Ukraine sparked reactions in the EU and beyond. President of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, said NATO should deploy troops if Russia invades Ukraine, saying “If Russia decides to extend its territorial expansion to eastern Ukraine, the fun is over”. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt posted on Twitter: “Sunday pattern that pro-Russian thugs try to stir up trouble in eastern Ukraine. Heavily supported by Kremlin propaganda machine. And more”. Former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said: “New violence in eastern Ukraine shows that Putin has no interest in a stable Ukraine. This struggle will be a long one”.

On Friday 4th and Saturday 5th April, EU Foreign Ministers urged Russia not to go any further. High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said: “It is really important that Russia shows it is serious about the de-escalation by moving troops back” from the Ukrainian border.

Russia has been pushing for the federalization of Ukraine since the fall of former President Viktor Yanokovych. Russia claims the ousting of Yanukovych was illegal and denounces the interim government in Kyiv. Claiming to protect the Russian speaking population, Russia annexed the autonomous Ukrainian Peninsula Crimea, sparking an international diplomatic crisis. On Friday 28 March, Yanukovych called on all of Ukraine’s regions to hold a referendum on their status inside the country. Russia has not yet commented on the current situation in eastern Ukraine.   

Shot in Crimea

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian military officer, still loyal to Kyiv, got shot by a Russian soldier in eastern Crimea on late Sunday evening. The Ukrainian officer, Major Stanislav Karchevskiy, was unarmed when he got killed on the fifth floor of the dormitory where he lived. A Ukrainian defense ministry spokesman said the major had been preparing to leave Crimea in a few days, though the exact circumstances of his death remain unclear.

Russian media reported that a group of Ukrainian soldiers had been drinking and wanted to enter the military base where they used to work, sparking an argument with the Russian soldiers guarding the entrance. Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the death. The shooting incident is a rare act of violence in the annexation of Crimea.   

Sources: Al jazeera, BBC, EU observer, Reuters, Russia Today, The Guardian, The New York Times.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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