Thousands of pro-federalization activists have rallied in cities across Eastern Ukraine, calling for greater sovereignty of their region from Kiev. Activists have formed militias that helped anti-Maidan protesters seize several government buildings.
Pro-federalization activists occupy city council, police HQ in Slavyansk
Activists in Slavyansk, a city in eastern Ukraine located in the north of the Donetsk region with a population of 120,000, seized the police headquarters and the city council building Saturday. Police said Anti-Maidan protesters also seized the local office of Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU.
They hoisted a Russian flag on top of the police HQ, Slavyansk Mayor Nelly Shtepa said.
“As I negotiated with the activists today, they explained that they represent the Donetsk regional people’s militia. They said that they oppose Kiev authorities and today they are negotiating with them” she said.
Shtepa added that the people of the city support the activists’ calls for a referendum on the region’s federalization, and are urging the police to side with the people.
If the authorities in Kiev will “try to suppress the uprising, many civilians will die, this cannot be allowed,” Shtepa said.
There are reports that the activists in Slavyansk have taken up weapons. However, one of the members of the Donbas people’s militia told media that no one was hurt during the storm of the police HQ, adding that the government building will be under their control until a referendum is held.
Ukraine’s coup-imposed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that the raid on police HQ was carried out by masked men with guns. He promised that the government’s answer to the raid would be “very harsh.” Avakov added that a Special Forces unit has been deployed to the scene.
Anti-Maidan protesters stopped two buses full of security forces which were heading from Donetsk to Slavyansk, Rossiya 24 TV channel reported. After negotiations, the security forces turned back to their Donetsk HQ.
“I can’t say there was a conflict between the police and activists, the latter just accompanied the Special Unit forces back to their HQ,” said a Rossiya 24 correspondent, who was at the scene.
Berkut Special Forces side with Donetsk people
In Donetsk, officers of the former Berkut special riot police unit refused to obey orders from Kiev and move to crush a pro-federalization takeover in Slavyansk. Instead Berkut officers sided with the people of the region, offering them security and protection.
Berkut forces occupied police headquarters in Donetsk. Tying St. George ribbons to their uniform, the special unit said that they supported the demands of the local population and refused to obey their command. Berkut fighters arrived at the building of the Internal Affairs building of the city.
Донецк: Донецкий беркут надел русские георгиевские ленты [Donetsk: Donetsk golden eagle wearing Russian St. George ribbons]