Pro-Russian protesters have seized a local state TV station in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, demanding that Russian TV channels be broadcast there. They also want to launch a “Donetsk People’s Republic” TV channel.
According to media reports, technical work is currently being done at the TV station to restart the transmission of Russian channels. Itar-Tass reports that some Russian TV channels have resumed work in Donetsk.
“Their experts are now setting up equipment on our frequency to broadcast Russian TV channels,” TV station CEO Oleg Dzholos told Ukraine’s Channel 5, Interfax-Ukraine reported.
One of the protesters has told the news agency that “Russia 24” channel is already broadcasting instead of local “Channel 27”.
Protesters have left the building, but still left their security there.
“Nobody freed the TV station – protesters left, but there is our security there as well as our technicians and the station’s crew,” an unnamed man told Interfax-Ukraine.
It has also been reported that pro-Russian protesters held talks with the TV center’s executives to begin broadcasting the “Donetsk People’s Republic” television channel.
“There were many demands. First – switch off Ukrainian channels. I explained that we are Donetsk state TV and radio station and from our central control room, there is only our signal. There were experts and they understood me. The following demand was – not a demand, an ultimatum – to switch on, if I am not mistaken, Russia-24 TV channel,” Dzholos said.
So far, all Ukrainian TV channels continue their broadcast.
Protesters entered the TV station late Sunday afternoon, saying they were unsatisfied with the way the situation in the region was covered in local news and shows. Protesters demanded that Ukrainian channels be blocked.
They have taken down the Ukrainian flag from the TV station’s office and hoisted the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. It was also taken down later.
Protesters brought satellite antennas and other equipment and placed guards at the entrance to the television center, Itar-Tass reported.
Prior to taking control of the TV station, over 3,000 people gathered at Donetsk’s central Lenin Square. Protesters started the rally with one minute’s silence to commemorate Berkut Special Forces officers killed in clashes with radicals in Kiev’s Independence Square, and activists killed by Right Sector radicals at a checkpoint in Slavyansk on Easter Sunday.
Russian TV channels have been blocked across Ukraine since the beginning of March, after the Ukrainian media watchdog claimed that shutting down Russian TV stations ensured the country’s “national security and sovereignty.”
At least five major Russian channels, including Vesti, Russia-24, Channel One’s international broadcasts, RTR ‘Planeta’ and NTV World were immediately excluded from the list of options by providers throughout Ukraine.
The move was strongly condemned by the OSCE, which called the move “repressive” and “a form of censorship.”
Since then, the situation in Donetsk has deteriorated, with people demanding a referendum on the region’s autonomy from Kiev. Amid massive protests, when a number of government building were stormed and seized by anti-government activists, Kiev launched an “anti-terrorist” military operation targeting rallying civilians.
A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC on Friday that the incidents had happened mainly near the border with Russia, but gave no further details.
Earlier, pro-Russian separatists seized a bus carrying international military observers, Ukrainian officials said.
Talks were under way to secure their release near the town of Sloviansk.
Russia has tens of thousands of troops deployed along its side of the border with Ukraine as pro-Moscow separatists continue to occupy official buildings in a dozen eastern towns, defying the government in Kiev.
Also on Friday, US President Barack Obama and European leaders threatened to impose new sanctions on Russia, saying it has failed to implement an agreement to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.
Russia has accused the West of wanting to “seize” Ukraine.
In a statement from the Pentagon, Col Steven Warren repeated US calls to take “immediate steps to de-escalate the situation”.
Mr Hagel described Russian activity along the Ukrainian border as “dangerously destabilising” and “very provocative”.
As friends and family waited impatiently to hear from Simon Ostrovsky, the journalist kidnapped by pro-Russian insurgents Tuesday, an image of a scantily dressed woman crawling across a bed appeared on his Facebook page Wednesday, likely the work of hackers.
Also Wednesday, the self-proclaimed mayor of the Ukrainian city of Slovyansk said he would not free Ostrovsky.
“We need prisoners,” Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the “people’s mayor” of Slovyansk, told Gazeta.ru on Wednesday. “We need bargaining chips. Many of our comrades are behind bars. They [the Ukrainian security forces] take them to Kiev and torture them. Now we are doing the same. Taking prisoners, that is.”
Stella Khoroshego, a spokeswoman for the self-appointed authorities of Slovyansk, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Ostrovsky was “fine” and that he had been detained on suspicion of “bad activities,” without elaborating on their nature.
Ponomaryov told Interfax that Ostrovsky was an informant for Ukraine’s Right Sector far-right nationalist party, the news agency reported.
Ostrovsky, a journalist at Vice News and former Moscow Times reporter, had been covering the crisis in Ukraine for the past weeks. He had presented a series of bold video dispatches called “Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine,” in which he regularly challenged armed men with blunt questions and sharp observations.
Ostrovsky’s whereabouts remain unknown. Pro-Russian insurgents denied that Ostrovsky was being held at the local state security building.
The self-appointed leaders of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk contradicted Ponomaryov and Khoroshego, denying the involvement of pro-Russian militants in the kidnapping of Ostrovsky and other journalists.
“We can neither confirm nor exclude the possibility that any foreign journalists have been kidnapped,” a spokesman for Yekaterina Gubareva, the self-styled foreign minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, told The Moscow Times on Wednesday. “All we can say is that we [the Donetsk People’s Republic] have not done this. This could be a provocation.”
The spokesman cited the case of Volodymyr Rybak, a member of acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov‘s party, who was found dead Tuesday after reportedly being abducted by pro-Russian forces and tortured, as an example of a “provocation” aimed at discrediting regional self-appointed authorities.
“We had nothing to do with the incident [involving Rybak] and we have stated this clearly,” the spokesman said. “It was a provocation. The same could be true about stories of kidnapped foreign journalists.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe released a statement Tuesday calling for Ostrovsky’s immediate release and expressing concern about the “ongoing negative pattern in relation to journalists’ safety in Ukraine.”
Earlier this week, Irma Krat, a Ukrainian journalist and pro-government activist, was taken hostage by pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk. The 29-year-old journalist was later brought out blindfolded and paraded outside the city’s security service building, where she confirmed that she was being detained and had not been harmed.
Belarussian reporter Dmitry Galka, as well as French and Italian journalists Paul Gogo and Kossimo Attanasio, were also detained in Slovyansk on Monday but were released a few hours later.
“My colleagues were trying to capture the daily life of the city on camera,” Galka, who is currently reporting from Donetsk, told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Then suddenly three armed young men in camouflage [gear] showed up and accused them of being European spies. We were pushed into the backseat of a car and taken to what we think was the center of their operations.”
Galka said that the reporters’ passports and equipment had been confiscated but returned to them upon their release.
“One of the men was on the phone, most likely speaking with his superiors,” Galka said. “And all of a sudden, we were told we could leave. And the armed men even told us we could be photographed with them. We used this picture as a ‘pass’ when we were stopped by other militants after our release.”
A Moscow Times reporter was also briefly detained by pro-Russian insurgents in Slovyansk on April 15. His belongings were personally searched by Ponomaryov, the self-appointed mayor.
Vice News, Ostrovsky’s employer, released a statement Tuesday saying that the organization was “in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities” to ensure the journalist’s safety and security.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington during Tuesday’s daily briefing that the department condemned the hostage takings but that it did not have any additional information on Ostrovsky’s case.
Ukraine currently ranks 127th in Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 Freedom of the Press Index, behind Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda. Russia ranks 148th.
“Indeed, there are fatalities. Efforts are under way to clarify their number, which is between four and eleven people,” the correspondent reported live on Tuesday.
As a result of clashes the Ukrainian troops opened fire against self-defense fighters who tried to stop paratroopers from landing at the airfield in Kramatorsk, he said.
Talks are now under way outside the airport building, a representative from the Ukrainian Army has met with the people who came up to the airfield, he said. Asked why the troops were shooting, he said: “I do not know.”
“The situation here is fairly tense, but at this moment there are no clashes,” he said.
“The town residents demand an explanation from the military. Moreover, a rally is about to begin: people arrive by taxi and in their own cars, there is now a traffic jam near the airport building,” the correspondent said, according to Interfax.
In an interview aired on Russian state television on Sunday, Yanukovich, who has been in Russia since fleeing Ukraine in February, said that Brennan had “sanctioned the use of weapons and provoked bloodshed.”
“The US bears its share of responsibility for starting a civil war in Ukraine, not only through diplomatic influence, but its security forces, which do not only meddle, but issue orders,” said the Ukrainian politician.
The CIA did not explicitly deny its chief’s visit, but said that “the claim that director Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine is completely false.”
DETAILS TO COME
A Ukrainian government deadline for pro-Russian protesters to lay down their arms and leave occupied buildings passed Monday with no sign of it being heeded in the eastern cities of Donetsk or Slaviansk.
But the deadline passed with no movement at the regional government building in Donetsk, which has been occupied for more than a week, and where barricades have been strengthened in the last few days.
In Slaviansk, pro-Russian protesters milled around with makeshift shields outside the occupied police station.
Similar deadlines in the past passed with no consequence.
Turchynov had issued a promise of amnesty for the activists — made up of protesters as well as armed militants who in recent days have stormed public buildings and planted Russian flags on them — in eastern Ukraine but warned that anyone who continues to support the takeover of government buildings would be held responsible for their actions.
“We’ll not allow any repetition of the Crimean scenario in the east of Ukraine. I have signed a decree that would allow those who did not shoot at our officers to lay down their arms and leave the occupied buildings by Monday morning without fear of being prosecuted,” he said.
Turchynov added that anyone who supports violence will be punished.
“We are ready to consider a significant expansion of regional powers of all regions and the wider reform of local self-government. However, all those supporting aggressors and occupiers in an armed struggle against our country will not escape punishment and will be prosecuted,” he said.
No top Ukrainian officials immediately posted any updates to mark the passing of the deadline.
(Reuters) – Armed men have seized a police department in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Saturday, the latest public building to be taken over in the east as Pro-Russian protesters stand off against Kiev.
“Armed men in camouflage uniforms seized the police department in Slaviansk. The response will be very tough because there is a difference between protesters and terrorists,” Avakov wrote on his page on Facebook.
A local police spokesman told Reuters the men had not made any demands, but did not give any details on their identity. Slaviansk is in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, about 150 km from the border with Russia.
On Friday, a deadline set by the Kiev authorities for the protesters to end their occupation expired, but there was no sign of action from the Ukrainian police to force them out.
“I will say it again: those who want dialogue… will have dialogue and the search for solutions. Those who are up in arms, set fire to buildings, shoot at people, police, terrorize with bats and masks, these people will face an appropriate response,” Avakov said in his Facebook post.
As the armed storming of the Donetsk administration building seized by the protesters seems imminent, the anti-government movement is preparing for the referendum set to form their new way of life and the country they’re going to live in.
Masked men, who are mostly civil volunteers, but also police and army defectors, say they “defend their motherland from the fascist army that’s going to kill them.” They also demand “a referendum to be independent from Kiev” and are in favor of “being with Russia.”
In the local administration building, the protest movement makes Molotov cocktails: they say they want to avoid any violence, but if there is a crackdown on them, they will be forced to use whatever they have.
“I only have a stick to defend myself. They are coming armed with machine guns, and all I had yesterday for example was a chair leg,” a masked protester said.
The Donetsk protesters fear the repetition of Kharkov scenario, where police cleared the demonstrators in a very violent way, detaining at least 70 people.
Donetsk is known to be the Ukrainian industrial capital, with about 1 million people living there. The Donetsk region is home to 10 per cent of the country’s population.
In the local administration, there are representatives of almost every big town or city in the Donetsk region, and each city or town occupies a floor in the building.
The protesters explained their position to RT.
“The protest in Donetsk is against nationalism, we are for social justice, the creation of our republic means drastic changes in the way our territory is organized. We are for equality of languages. We are against the oppression by the majority by the nationalist minority, and against threatening ethnic Russians.”
Another protester, wearing a mask, spoke about the industrial wealth of his region that seems to vanish in Kiev for the most part.
“Donetsk region sends about 470 million dollars to Kiev, and less than 150 million returns. All the mines and enterprises in Donetsk are prosperous.”
Watch more in RT’s Maria Finoshina’s report.
Demonstrators in Kharkov, north-east Ukraine, have appealed to Russia to pass to the UN their demands over a referendum on the federalization, while hundreds of protesters in Donetsk stormed a prosecutor’s office demanding to free a local “governor”.
As Crimea decides on its future in a referendum, Sunday in eastern Ukraine was marked by a fresh series of pro-Russian rallies.
In Kharkov, the country’s second-largest city, between 1,500 to 3,000 protesters gathered on the central square demanding a referendum on federalizing Ukraine.
“Our city has been Russian and will remain such albeit within Ukraine. We are ready to live in a single country but on our terms,” one of the activists, leader of Civic Platform movement Yury Apukhtin announced from a stage, as cited by Itar-Tass.
After the so-called “popular assembly”, the crowd of demonstrators – chanting pro-Russian slogans and carrying a huge 100-meter long tricolor – proceeded to Russia’s consulate general where they handed over a letter addressed to President Vladimir Putin.
Protesters, on behalf of Kharkov’s assembly, asked Putin to “guarantee their rights and freedoms” and pass to the United Nations their demands regarding a referendum on the federalization, which they plan for April 27, reported Ukrainian National News (UNN) website. Additionally, activists asked to deploy Russian peacekeepers to Kharkov region, adding that they fear for their lives and property.
The demonstrators then marched to the nearby consulate of Poland, protesting against Western interference into Ukrainian affairs.
Kharkov protesters also looted the building housing offices of radical-nationalist organizations, including the Right Sector group, reported Interfax-Ukraine. The activists broke into the building, took out books and nationalist symbols and burnt them.
Donetsk rally demands release of ‘people’s governor’
Several thousand pro-Russian protesters took to the streets in Donetsk, a large industrial city in eastern Ukraine.
The demonstrators demanded that the parliament, Verkhovna Rada “remove from power the illegitimate Cabinet and cancel its decision,” cited Itar-Tass. They also urge the creation of a new coalition government, the composition of which would be agreed with the people. Protesters said it was necessary to go back to the February 21 agreement on the crisis settlement, which was signed by ousted President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders and provides for early parliamentary and presidential elections.
Among other demands is giving Russian language a status of a second official tongue and an investigation of killings of law enforcers and protesters on Kiev’s Maidan Square in February.
A crowd of up to 2,000 people reportedly stormed the regional Prosecutor’s Office, demanding to free “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev. The political activist – who was spontaneously proclaimed the governor during a demonstration on March 1 – was detained on March 6 on charges of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, takeover of power, and seizure of government buildings.
Demonstrators broke into in the building, smashed windows, tore off and threw away the Ukrainian national flag and replaced it with Russian, according to Interfax.
Activists also reportedly entered into the office of a company owned by oligarch Sergey Taratuta, the head of the regional administration appointed to the post by Kiev authorities. Protesters stated that they consider the governor illegitimate, reported RIA Novosti. Having not found Taratuta in the building, protesters then marched to the regional administration office.
Meanwhile, Kiev sent heavy military hardware to the borders with Russia. Activists in eastern Ukraine regions, including Donetsk and Lugansk, were reportedly blocking trains delivering military equipment from the central and western parts of Ukraine.