Activists replant Russian flag above HQ in Ukraine city

DONETSK, Ukraine Wed Mar 5, 2014 4:14pm EST

Pro-Russian demonstrators erect a Russian flag outside the regional government building in Donetsk March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Pro-Russian demonstrators erect a Russian flag outside the regional government building in Donetsk March 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Moscow activists recaptured the administrative headquarters of the eastern city of Donetsk and flew the Russian flag from its roof on Wednesday, hours after Kiev's authorities managed to fly their own flag there for the first time since Saturday.

While the group of a few hundred pro-Moscow protesters was recapturing the building, however, a far larger demonstration gathered elsewhere in the city in favor of the authorities in Kiev, a sign of a backlash among some people towards Moscow's allies in Ukraine's Russian-speaking heartland.

Around 5,000 supporters of the new authorities in Kiev, who chanted "Down with Putin! Donetsk is Ukraine!", rallied on the city's central square, where they were charged by about 1,000 pro-Moscow protesters chanting "Russia! Russia!"

Police were unable to keep them apart. Local authorities said seven people were injured including one hospitalized. Among those hurt were supporters of Donetsk's main soccer team, Shakhtyor, who, in a sign of growing disillusionment in the city with the pro-Russian activists, had turned out to protect the demonstrators on the pro-Kiev side.

The arrival of large numbers of supporters of the government is a new development in the city, home town of ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich, where most people speak Russian and many are deeply suspicious of Kiev.

Pro-Moscow demonstrators had been holed up in the regional administration building since Monday. Ukrainian police persuaded them to leave on Wednesday after announcing a bomb threat in the building, and the Ukrainian flag was raised once they had left.

"We are determined to erect our people's power in the Donetsk region. And we will not retreat. We have huge support," their leader Pavel Gubarev said in front of the building before mounting an hours-long tussle to reclaim it from police.

Gubarev, a local businessman, calls himself the "people's governor" and has demanded that the regional security forces be placed under his control.

Donetsk has seen the most persistent pro-Russian demonstrations in a wave of protests that erupted across southern and eastern cities on Saturday just as President Vladimir Putin was declaring Russia's right to invade.

Kiev says the protests across the south and east were arranged by Moscow to justify an invasion. It says those in other cities have tried to follow the pattern of Crimea, the southern peninsula where Russian troops quickly seized control after a pro-Russian politician was declared the new leader behind closed doors in a besieged regional parliament last week.


The future of eastern and southern cities has been in flux, with many of the locals deeply hostile to the new authorities in Kiev but others worried about the prospect of a Russian assault and concerned about militant tactics by Moscow's supporters.

Gubarev's followers are a mix of locals and some outsiders who speak Russian without the region's distinctive accent.

"What is going on in Donetsk is abnormal," said Anatoly Prokopenko, a pro-Kiev demonstrator. "I can't go with a flag of my own country into city center: I need to be afraid. But people with the flags of another country act like they are the bosses and even put their flag on the administration building."

Kiev's new government has named one of Ukraine's richest men, metal baron Sergei Taruta, as Donetsk regional governor, a sign that powerful oligarchs, many of whom once supported Yanukovich, are now behind the new authorities.

But Taruta has yet to appear at the Donetsk government headquarters to take up the job in person. On Wednesday morning he was shown on television telling the Kiev cabinet by video link that the leadership of the police force needed changing because of "sabotage from the side of the security forces".

"Everything is fine. Everyone is in place," Taruta said.

Regional police chief Roman Romanov announced he was stepping down for health reasons.


Ukraine says it has not used force to safeguard the building in Donetsk to avoid violence that might provoke a Russian military response. Authorities have also acknowledged questions about the loyalty of some security forces.

About 1,000 pro-Moscow activists also marched on Wednesday in Kharkiv, another eastern city whose administrative headquarters were stormed five days ago when scores of people were injured by protesters with axe handles and chains.

This time, police kept the demonstrators safely away from the administration building, which was flying the Ukrainian flag. A delegation was allowed in to present demands to the newly appointed governor, Ihor Baluta.

Sitting around a table in the marble clad room, the men, all wearing orange and black ribbons of the pro-Russia movement, demanded he call a referendum on federalism for Ukraine and making Russian a state language. They said if their demands were not met they would send a petition to Putin for help.

At the demonstration outside, sales manager Dmitry Prohorov said people would continue to demonstrate as long as the needs of Russian speakers were ignored by the "illegitimate" government in Kiev. "Leaders we didn't choose have appointed a governor we don't even know ... The demonstrations will continue until we are given a voice."

(Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice in Kharkiv; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Comments (3)
wholelinkscom wrote:
One question: Does Ukraine right now has a legitimate government by Ukraine constitution? #linkstowholesales

Mar 05, 2014 2:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
joebialek1 wrote:
This letter is in response to the articles covering the civil unrest
occurring in Ukraine.

As a citizen of and believer in democracy, I applaud the efforts of the Ukrainian people. Their efforts are similar to what is happening in many other parts of the world.

Believe it or not, one thing that trumps capitalism and political
correctness in the United States is the right to have one’s voice heard. This is the foundation of which our democracy is built on. The Ukrainian people should continue to defy Viktor Yanukovych’s powerful security forces so that Ukrainian democracy can begin to thrive. It is unfortunate that the United States compromised on one of its most fundamental values in order to protect its economic interests in Eastern Europe; something that happens all too often domestically as well. It is not the Ukrainian people that are attempting to seize power but rather it is those currently in power who have engaged in intimidation to prevent the will of the people from being heard. Why else would they stoop to such underhanded tactics to block various means of communication among the citizens of Ukraine? Why is the government in power utilizing such political strong-arm tactics as the use of violence?

Viktor Yanukovych, you have had four years to lead Ukraine and have failed them by your own choosing. The days of the despotic regime are finally coming to an end as it appears the desire for freedom will continue to sweep among the East European nations. Accordingly, let the call go forth among all citizens of Ukraine that your brothers and sisters of democracy from all over the world are with you during every trial and tribulation you may encounter during this crisis. To the people of Ukraine, the trumpet of freedom beckons you to rise in protest and ensure your voice to preserve your sacred heritage, promote your children’s future and obtain the blessings of liberty we all cherish.

Ukraine, the hour of your redemption is at hand. As you the rightful citizens move forward to reclaim your own country, rise and strike! In the name of those who were murdered fighting for everyone’s rights, rise and strike! To end the rule of this evil regime, rise and strike! Let no one continue to fear this man. Let every Ukrainian be strong and fight on for their freedom. Rise and strike!

Viktor Yanukovych, let the people go!

Cleveland, OH USA

Mar 05, 2014 10:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
They should do more than just regurgitate things. The pro-Russian activists are actually Russians. They discovered that one of these guys on the flag is from Moscow.

Most Ukrainians don’t want to be part of Russia.

Mar 06, 2014 1:09am EST  --  Report as abuse
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