DONETSK, Ukraine – Pro-Russian activists barricaded inside a government building in eastern Ukraine proclaimed the region independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The Ukrainian government vowed to quell the unrest, while Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops stationed along their joint border, warned Ukraine of more “difficulties and crises” if its leaders failed to heed Moscow’s demands.
Pro-Russian activists who had seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic. They also called for a referendum on the possible secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Interfax news agency.
Outside the Donetsk building, a barricade of car tires and razor wire was built up to prevent police from retaking it. Other armed activists fired warning shots in the air and tried to seize the regional state television building in Donetsk but retreated Monday after police and guards in the building also fired warning shots in the air, Interfax cited police as saying.
Government buildings were also seized in two neighboring Russian-speaking Ukrainian cities – Kharkiv and Luhansk – and top government officials headed there to try to quell the unrest.
But as of late Monday, the buildings in all three cities remained occupied by pro-Russian activists whom authorities said were armed.
In Kiev, President Oleksandr Turchinov described the developments in eastern Ukraine as an operation undertaken by Russia to sow instability.
“Anti-terrorism measures will be adopted against those who took up weapons,” Turchinov said, adding that parliament would convene Tuesday to consider tougher penalties for separatist actions and a ban on separatist parties.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also accused Russia of staging the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops across the border.
“The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.
Full article: In echo of Crimea, eastern Ukraine declares independence (CBS News)