AP and AFP
DONETSK, Ukraine/LUXEMBOURG — A pro-Russian mob on Monday seized a police building in yet another city in Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine, defying government warnings that it was preparing to act against the insurgents.
Dozens of angry men hurled rocks, smashed the windows and broke into a police station in the city of Horlivka not far from the border with Russia, while hundreds of onlookers cheered them on. Thick white smoke rose from the entrance to the building, from which the insurgents hoisted the Russian flag.
The events in Horlivka were the latest sign of trouble in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, in which pro-Russian gunmen have seized or blocked government buildings in at least nine cities demanding more autonomy from the central government and closer ties with Russia.
Oleksandr Sapunov, one of the men who took part in storming the police building in Horlivka, said the insurgents were fighting against appointees of the Kiev government, including the local police chief, and wanted to appoint a leadership of their own.
“The people came to tell him that he is a puppet of the Kiev junta and they won’t accept him,” Sapunov said.
One of the insurgents later announced that some of the police have switched over to their side, retained their weapons and will continue serving on the police force.
Hundreds of onlookers outside chanted “Referendum!” and “Russia!”
One man climbed on the roof of the porch to put up a Russian flag. A policeman came through a window to chase him, and the man fell off the roof. Several minutes later the policeman, his head bloodied, was carried out of the police station to an ambulance. Acting Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Velichkovych acknowledged Monday that some police officers in eastern regions were switching sides. “In the east we have seen numerous facts of sabotage from the side of police,” Velichkovych told reporters.
Kiev authorities and Western officials have accused Moscow of instigating the protests, saying the events echoed those in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last month. Ever since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February, Russia has demanded constitutional reforms that would turn Ukraine into a loose federal state.
After refusing demands for a referendum by separatists in the east, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov indicated Monday that holding a nation-wide referendum on the nation’s status was a possibility and that such a vote could be conducted on May 25, along with presidential elections. Turchynov expressed confidence that Ukrainians would vote against turning the country into a federation and against its break-up.