Thousands of people have gathered in Donetsk,in eastern Ukraine,calling for the federalization of the country.The demonstrators also started forming militias to help anti-Maidan protesters in Slavyansk, who seized several government buildings in the city.
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.
The deputy leader of the self-styled Donbass people’s militia, Sergey Tsyplakov, told RIA Novosti that the activists who stormed the HQ were unarmed.
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 Prime 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.
Amid the protests calling for Ukraine’s federalization, acting president Aleksandr Turchinov sacked the head of the SBU security service for the Donetsk region, Valery Ivanov, on Saturday, according to a decree published on the presidential website.
The regional police chief of Donetsk, Konstantin Pozhidayev, said Saturday he was quitting his post after the protesters urged him to step down.
Unrest has gripped eastern Ukraine after the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev, which resulted in a coup on February 22. People in Donetsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and other cities are calling for a referendum to decide on the status of the Donbass regions.