Odessa, May 4 (Reuters): Pro-Russian militants stormed a Ukrainian police station in Odessa today and freed 30 fellow activists as the Prime Minister blamed police corruption there for dozens of deaths in rioting on Friday.
“Russians won’t abandon their own!” militants chanted as they smashed windows and broke down the gate at the compound, where comrades had been held since Friday’s mayhem. Others shouted “Russia! Russia!” and “we will not forgive!”
Odessa police said 30 activists had been released.
Some police officers were offered the black and orange St George’s ribbon, a Russian military insignia that has become a symbol of the revolt and were cheered when they accepted it.
As rebellion simmered, questions were raised about the ability of the army as well as the police to confront an uprising Kiev says is backed by Moscow and led in the field by Russian special forces — an accusation the Kremlin denies.
The police in the eastern port of Mariupol said pro-Russian rebels had tricked soldiers at a checkpoint into eating food laced with a sleeping potion. They were then bundled off along with their weapons, prompting long talks to free them.
Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accused Russia of engineering Friday’s clashes there that led to the deaths of more than 40 pro-Russian activists in a blazing building.
But he was pointedly critical of the police. “If the law enforcement system in Odessa had worked not exclusively on the ‘Seventh Kilometre’ and had protected people, then these terrorist organisations would have been foiled.”
The Seventh Kilometre is an open market on the edge of Odessa, associated in the popular consciousness with the corruption and black market business that have marked Ukraine’s 23 years of post-Soviet independence.