New rebel assault deepens Ukraine divide

May 02, 2014 - 1:18:04 am

DONETSK: The insurgency dividing Ukraine worsened yesterday when militants hurling petrol bombs seized a key building in the eastern city of Donetsk as mass pro-Russia rallies were held there and in annexed Crimea.

Kiev’s Western-backed government has already admitted its security forces are “helpless” to halt the rebellion it blames on Moscow from spreading across more than a dozen eastern towns and cities. It has ordered out a Russian diplomat arrested for espionage, risking a tit-for-tat response from Russia.

As fears mounted of the ex-Soviet republic disintegrating, Germany stepped up its appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help free seven OSCE inspectors held in the town of Slavyansk by the rebels — four Germans, a Pole, a Dane and a Czech.

In Donetsk, a mob of around 300 pro-Russian militants throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks stormed the prosecutor’s office, beating up outnumbered riot police and stealing their arms and shields while yelling “fascists!”

Once inside, they smashed doors and carried off official photos and Ukrainian national symbols to be burned. The insurgents already held the regional administration building and the city hall in Donetsk.

The assault occurred while 10,000 people in the city marched in opposition to the Kiev government and in favour of closer ties to Russia. The rally evolved from a traditional International Labour Day march. 

In Moscow, the same event turned into a sort of victory parade for Putin and his policies in Ukraine, with 100,000 workers filling Red Square for the first time since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, waving patriotic slogans and praising the president.

By contrast, the Labour Day march in Kiev was dispirited and meagre, attended by a mere 2,000 people. “Why do others quietly steal our land? Why does Russia do it, as well as the Ukrainian oligarchs? I am not against Russia, I don’t care about what authority will be here, but they should give us a normal life,” said one participant, a 51-year-old unemployed woman who gave her name as Zhanna.

In Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Russia annexed in March, some 60,000 people marched in the main city of Simferopol to hail Putin bringing them under Moscow’s governance, an AFP journalist saw. 

Putin and his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, are reportedly to make a triumphant visit to the territory late next week.