Ukraine crisis: Hopes of diplomatic deal dashed as pro-Russian militants refuse to leave occupied buildings

Self-assigned Donetsk People's Republic said the interim government in Kiev is illegitimate and also occupying buildings

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The Independent Online

Hopes raised by the early progress of talks in Geneva over the Ukraine crisis have been dashed after pro-Russian insurgents occupying government buildings in over 10 cities in eastern Ukraine refused to leave until the country's interim government resigns.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev and Russia had agreed on Thursday to take steps toward calming tensions. Conflict has been ongoing for weeks in eastern Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March following the fleeing of the country’s pro-Russian leader.

The deal, reached in the presence of US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU representatives, calls for all paramilitary groups across the country - including ultranationalist Right Sector activists in Kiev - to disarm, and all government buildings seized across the country to be immediately vacated.

But on Friday, Denis Pushilin of the self-assigned Donetsk People's Republic said the insurgents do not recognise the Ukrainian government as legitimate and so will not be leaving.

Speaking at the occupied regional headquarters in the eastern city of Donetsk, Mr Pushilin asserted that the country’s interim government in the capital, Kiev, is also occupying public buildings illegally.

“This is a reasonable agreement but everyone should vacate the buildings and that includes (Arseniy) Yatsenyuk and (Oleksandr) Turchynov,” he said, referring to the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president.

Although Ukraine has scheduled a presidential election for 25 May, Mr Pushilin continued to call for a Crimea style referendum on self-determination for the Donetsk region by 11 May.

He said the pro-Russian groups would not handover weapons until the Kiev based government ends efforts to reclaim the buildings.

“As far disarmament goes, the Kiev junta has already begun violating its agreements since yesterday, by announcing that it will not pull its troops out of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk,” Mr Pushilin said, referring to two cities occupied by the insurgency.

Kiev has so far made very little attempt to reclaim the captured buildings - despite announcing a large scale security oppression again the insurgents which never materialised.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament Friday the government has drafted a law to offer amnesty to all those willing to lay down their arms and leave the occupied government buildings.

Pro-Russian activist leader, Denis Pushilin holds a press conference inside the Donetsk Regional Administration building (Getty)

Russia has continued to refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Ukraine's interim government, but has not said the politicians should vacate their offices.

Thousands of Russian soldiers remain stationed along Russia’s border with east Ukraine and yesterday President Vladimir Putin did not rule out sending troops into the country in order to “protect” inhabitants.

Meanwhile, former prime minister and presidential hopeful Yulia Tymoshenko arrived Friday in Donetsk in a bid to defuse the tensions and hear “the demands of Ukrainians who live in Donetsk.”

“I'd like to listen to these demands by myself and find out how serious they are, so that one could find the necessary compromise between the east and the west that will allow us to unite the country,” she told reporters.

Asked whether she would visit the occupied buildings, Ms Tymoshenko said she would talk to people “representing various groups who seized the buildings.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday emphasised that the requirement to abandon occupied building applied to all parties - an apparent reference to the ultra nationalists who are occupying Kiev city hall and a Kiev cultural centre.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian presidential candidate Oleh Tsaryov, was quoted Friday as saying that Right Sector activists should be the first to lay down their arms.

Additional reporting from AP