(Adds dropped word 'jet' in paragraph 4)
* Protesting miners say Ukrainian "occupiers" must leave
* Separatist leader says volunteers coming from Russia to
* An independent miners' union condemns Donetsk rally
By Gabriela Baczynska
DONETSK, Ukraine, May 28 Up to 1,000 coal miners
rallied on Wednesday in support of armed pro-Russian separatists
who are battling Ukrainian forces in defence of their
self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) in eastern
A day after Kiev unleashed warplanes and paratroopers
against the separatists in a major offensive that killed at
least 50 rebels, the miners marched through Donetsk city centre
to demand the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the region.
There were no reports of fresh clashes on Wednesday, but
local residents reported a burst of gunfire coming from the area
of the regional state security service building which is
occupied by separatists.
"Kiev does not rule us any more, we will no longer accept
that," separatist leader Denis Pushilin told the miners, who had
been bussed in from around the Donbass coalfield, as a Ukrainian
fighter jet roared overhead.
The protesters, from Ukraine's largest mine workers' union,
waved DNR flags and banners that read "We will revive the power
of the Donbass". The Donbass, comprising coal mines and steel
mills, is Ukraine's industrial heartland.
"I want peace and to be able to work and make money. I want
the occupying soldiers to leave and return to their Kiev junta,"
said Valery, who works at the state-owned Abakumova mine.
He said the miners backed the DNR, which was declared after
a makeshift referendum on May 11 condemned by Kiev and the West.
Echoing Russia, the separatists often refer to Kiev's
pro-Western authorities as "fascists" who they say seized power
illegally after mass street protests toppled Ukraine's
Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich in February.
The separatists prevented voters in the eastern regions of
Donetsk and Luhansk from taking part in Ukraine's presidential
election on Sunday, which brought to power Petro Poroshenko, who
favours closer economic and political ties with the West.
Poroshenko, a confectionary magnate, has said he is willing
to grant eastern Ukraine greater autonomy but only within
Ukraine. He has ruled out negotiating with the armed rebels.
Russia wants an immediate end to Ukraine's military
offensive against the rebels. It has denied arming or training
the separatists, who have taken power in several cities and
towns across the region, but says their calls for autonomy from
Kiev are legitimate and should be addressed.
Pushilin said "more and more volunteers" were crossing
Ukraine's long eastern border from Russia to support the DNR.
"We will drive fascism away," he said.
Coal miner Vladislav said he hoped Russia would recognise
the DNR as an independent state, adding: "But I can also live on
bread and water if that is what it takes to win independence."
The Union of Mine Workers to which most of Wednesday's
protesters belong has close links to the Party of the Regions,
which ousted president Yanukovich once led.
Some independent miners' unions distanced themselves from
Wednesday's rally in Donetsk.
"We did not organise this action," said Mykola Volynko, head
of the Independent Miners' Trade Union of the Donbass, on
"(The protesters and the Party of the Regions) continue to
do everything to break up the country."
(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Richard Balmforth)