Russians of the east vent their anger at the 'orange revolt'

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The Independent Online

Under the stern gaze of a huge statue of Lenin, thousands of people thronged the streets of Donetsk yesterday, braving the snow and freezing conditions, to vent their anger over the mass rallies in Kiev and declare their support for the man accused of fixing the election, Viktor Yanukovych.

Under the stern gaze of a huge statue of Lenin, thousands of people thronged the streets of Donetsk yesterday, braving the snow and freezing conditions, to vent their anger over the mass rallies in Kiev and declare their support for the man accused of fixing the election, Viktor Yanukovych.

The depth of Ukraine's political, cultural and linguistic divide was plain on the streets of the eastern industrial city. There was no sign of the sea of opposition orange that has swept over the capital only the blue and white flags of the government-backed Yanukovych campaign.

The city's Ladas, Wartburgs and ancient trolleybuses laboured through the snowy streets under billboards declaring "Yanukovych ­ President of Ukraine". A small opposition demonstration on Sunday ended in scuffles as it came into contact with a larger pro-Yanukovych gathering.

At last night's demonstration Russian flags were waved as speakers lauded Mr Yanukovych over a powerful public address system, competing with frantic Russian pop music. The great majority in Donetsk speak Russian and have a close affinity with their neighbour, unlike the Ukrainian-speaking west, and fear a national takeover by pro-Western Ukrainian speakers.

Russia has come very close to declaring openly its support for moves towards autonomy in the east ­ the subtext of which is union with Russia. Viktor Chernomyrdyn, Russia's ambassador to Kiev, was at a meeting in Severodonetsk on Sunday of legislative bodies from eastern and southern Ukraine. The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhov, one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies, was also present.

In this bleak, industrial corner of the former USSR, Communist nostalgia, xenophobia and paranoia are never far away. Some wary voices of opposition in Donetsk claim the opposition movement led by Victor Yushchenko is pushing them unwillingly into autonomy and perhaps secession. Vladimir Kuzmenko, a retired coal miner, said: "We are pleased with the economic growth in our region thanks to our former governor Yanukovych. But we really don't want to break away."

It is a sentiment often repeated ­ many people in this mining and heavy industrial region credit Mr Yanukovych during his time as governor and then prime minister with improving wages and living standards. Ludmilla Marmazova, a university English lecturer, said: "We hope Ukraine has a future as one country, but the crisis has gone too far. Those behind the repulsive [opposition] farce in Kiev didn't plan to split the country, but it seems irreparable."

Igor Chichasov, press secretary of the governor of Donetsk, told The Independent that a vote for regional autonomy would be staged as early as 5 December. The autonomy vote might be viewed as an act of brinkmanship by a regime desperate to cling on to power, but there is no mistaking the growing sense of rancour between eastern and western Ukraine.

Svetlana Ryzhenko, another English lecturer, said: "Western Ukraine cannot live without us because they have no industry, only agriculture. But we can live without them."

Vasily Vasutin, from the Yushchenko campaign, condemned the referendum as "illegal and unconstitutional".

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