Pro-Russian activists, who seized the main administration building in Donetsk, hold the Russian flag and the flag of the “Donetsk Republic”. (AFP)
Moscow, April 7: Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators who have seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, urged President Vladimir V. Putin today to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, and they demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.
The renewed unrest in eastern Ukraine, which flared yesterday with coordinated demonstrations by thousands of pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, reignited fears in Kiev and the West about Russian military action a little more than a month after Russian forces occupied Crimea. The Kremlin annexed Crimea after a referendum there last month.
The events in the east were unfolding just hours after a Ukrainian military officer was shot and killed in Crimea in a confrontation with Russian troops.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian defence ministry, Vladislav Seleznev, said the officer, Maj. Stanislav Karchevskiy, was killed in a military dormitory where he lived with his wife and two children, next to the Novofedorivka air base in western Crimea.
By about noon, the police in Donetsk said they were negotiating with representatives of about 150 protesters who had been occupying the regional administration building after breaking through a police cordon yesterday.
The demonstrators said that they had formed a new legislature and would move ahead with plans to hold a referendum on May 11, two weeks before the provisional Ukrainian government in Kiev is set to hold a national presidential election. Several organisers of the protest in Donetsk spoke inside the regional administration building, where Russian television channels were broadcasting the events live.
In Germany, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that the government was extremely concerned about the events in eastern Ukraine and called for calm. “The latest developments in Donetsk and in Kharkiv are something which we are all very worried about in the German government,” the spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said at a news conference.
“We must urgently renew our appeal to all those in positions of responsibility to help stabilise the region and avoid such escalation,” he said.
The death of the Ukrainian officer was a rare instance of deadly violence as Ukrainian forces continue their withdrawal from the peninsula after its annexation by Russia.
Seleznev, the defence ministry spokesman, said that the Ukrainian soldier had been collecting his belongings in preparation to leave Crimea when an argument broke out with Russian service members, Reuters reported today.
Seleznev said that the altercation involved several Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and that there were no other injuries. He said a Russian soldier armed with an automatic weapon entered the dormitory and shot Maj. Karchevskiy, who was unarmed.
Ukraine’s provisional government in Kiev has ordered its forces to withdraw from Crimea, but an unknown number of military personnel remain on the peninsula.