Ukraine crisis: Dozens die in fire in Odessa

At least 31 people were killed in Odessa when a building was set alight during clashes between pro-Kiev and pro-Moscow factions.

Several of the dead were reported to have been killed when they jumped to escape the blaze and the rest died as they were overcome by fumes, heat and flames.

Police put the death toll at the trade union building at 31 but did not say how the fire broke out. Earlier in the day they reported that three people had been shot dead and a further 15 were hurt during in violent street battles.

Until yesterday the port of Odessa, in the southern part of Ukraine, had been largely untroubled by violence since President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

However, the attempt by the Kiev government to wrest back control of the eastern city of Slovyansk from pro-Russian militias sparked clashes between government and pro-Russia supporters.

In the town, pro-Russian separatists brought down two Ukrainian military helicopters involved in an operation to try to dislodge militants from their strongholds.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Ukrainian forces had fired on civilians from the air in Slaviansk in a “punitive operation” that destroyed an international peace plan. Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on the border and claims the right to invade if needed to protect Russian speakers.

But the Western-backed government in Kiev said the use of missiles to bring down its helicopters showed Russian forces were in the town, an accusation which Moscow denies.

Ukraine's acting president also said Russian “armed saboteurs” had tried to enter the country overnight, but were pushed back by Ukrainian border troops. Russia's Security Service said the report was untrue.

 

The growing chaos is overshadowing a presidential election the pro-Western leadership in Kiev is planning for 25 May. The rebels are planning a vote on 11 May to seek a mandate to break with Kiev, like one held in Crimea before Moscow took it over.

In an attempt to ease tensions in the area, the United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on individuals, with little impact.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the next step would be sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy and they would be imposed if Moscow impeded the Ukrainian presidential poll.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting Washington, told a joint news conference with Obama that the elections on May 25 were critical and sectoral sanctions were ready.

The clashes in Ukraine prompted the UK to accuse Moscow at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council of “synthetic indignation” and “breathtaking” hypocrisy.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the UK ambassador to the UN in New York, said Russia "funded, equipped and directed" some of those involved in the insurgency.

"The scale of Russian hypocrisy is breathtaking. Russia stoutly supports and indeed arms the most repressive regimes in the world, notably Syria, a regime which brutally represses dissent without any sense of restraint or concern for the protection of civilians,” he told the Security Council.

"Russia's synthetic indignation of Ukraine's proportionate and measured actions convinces no one."

Sir Mark said it was "simply not credible" for Moscow to claim the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine were "peaceful activists" given the apparent use of man-portable air defence systems.

"The use of such sophisticated weaponry against Ukrainian forces reaffirms our assessment that the armed groups in east Ukraine include professionals funded, equipped and directed by Russia."

Gerard Araud, the French ambassador, added: "Russia ... has released bands of thugs on Ukraine ... and is suddenly discovering this mixture might escape its control."

With Russia able to veto any motion the Security Council meeting broke up without any agreement being reached.

Earlier in the day Foreign Secretary William Hague, who will visit Ukraine next week, had said: "I am extremely concerned by reports of the activities of armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, including the detention of hostages, intimidation of the media and the reported shooting down of Ukrainian military helicopters this morning.

"There can be no doubt that these incidents, perpetrated by well-trained groups using sophisticated military technology, are intended to provoke further instability.  These provocations are destroying all efforts to reduce tensions and are a serious threat to the country.

"Ukraine has shown admirable restraint since the beginning of this crisis in the face of extreme provocation on its own national territory.

"Now more than ever it is important that all parties, including the Russian Federation, abide by the commitments they made in Geneva on 17 April. I urge the Russian authorities to act to reduce tensions and to call upon separatist groups to lay down their arms."

Additional reporting: Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Designer - Graduate Scheme

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join one of the UK's leading de...

Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Manager

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a white-ha...

Recruitment Genius: Operations and Administration Support Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Solar P...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor