Ukraine's largest bank suspends cash operations in east

KIEV Mon May 5, 2014 4:40am EDT

Masked pro-Russian activists stand outside a branch of Ukraine's Privatbank during a protest in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Masked pro-Russian activists stand outside a branch of Ukraine's Privatbank during a protest in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine April 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's largest bank has temporarily closed branches in separatist-held Donetsk and Luhansk, saying it could no longer carry out cash transactions in regions riddled with crime that could "threaten the lives" of its workers.

Pro-Russian separatists have targeted Privatbank, after its co-owner, billionaire Igor Kolomoisky, was appointed by the new government head of the nearby Dnipropetrovsk region and swiftly announced a $10,000 bounty on the heads of Russian "saboteurs".

Rebels, who say they want independence from Kiev, set fire to a branch in the town of Mariupol in the Donetsk region late on Saturday and raided a security truck last week in Horlivka, south of the region's main rebel stronghold.

"In the current circumstances we cannot and do not have the right to make people go to work in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where armed people break into bank branches and seize security vans in the towns," Privatbank said in a statement.

It said its clients could access their accounts via the Internet and mobile devices, use their cards in shops and make cashless transactions at self-service terminals.

"Over the last 10 days, 38 ATMs, 24 branches of Privatbank and 11 cash collection vans have suffered arson, assault and wanton destruction in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk," it said, adding that the bank processes more than 400,000 pensions and other social benefits for 220,000 people in both regions.

Kolomoisky, Ukraine's fourth richest man, according to Forbes magazine, has become a hate figure for the pro-Russian separatists after he said he would give $10,000 to Ukrainian troops for every "saboteur" handed over.

The leader of the regional militia in Dnipropetrovsk, which borders Donetsk, also said $1,000 would be paid for a rifle, $1,500 for a machinegun and $2,000 for a grenade-launcher.

Dnipropetrovsk has been quiet since separatists started taking control of wide swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions last month, in an operation blamed on Moscow by Kiev's new pro-Western leaders.

Russia, which has long considered Slavic Ukraine an extension of its own country, denies any involvement in the unrest, saying Russian speakers are simply protecting their rights from attacks by a hostile government.

(reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Natalia Zinets, editing by Nigel Stephenson)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

How to get out of debt

Financial adviser Eric Brotman offers strategies for cutting debt from student loans and elder care -- and how to avoid money woes in the first place.  Video