Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in the east? - Europe - World - The Independent

Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in the east?

The Kiev administration continues to talk tough, as it did while losing Crimea, as Horlivka becomes the latest city where state institutions have passed into the hands of separatists

Horlivka

Officer Nicolai Kochergin stared at the telephone for a few rings before picking it up. “It’s about an accident”, he shrugged, holding his hand over the mouthpiece, “not everyone knows what’s going on here”. He then sat down and began to take down details from the caller.

Down a short corridor, the reception area of the police station was covered in shattered glass. Files were strewn on the floor, an upended computer lay next to fist-sized rocks which had shattered every window, front and back. A huddle of men in balaclavas were planning a march to the mayor's office; around six officers in blue uniforms were looking drained, a few slumped on chairs, others leaning against a wall.

This was the scene at Horlivka, the latest city where state institutions have passed into the hands of separatists; falling dominoes in the eastern part of Ukraine with a seemingly impotent government in Kiev issuing ultimatum after ultimatum ignored by gunmen now on a roll.

The country's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, charged that police officers in the region "are unfortunately incapable of protecting Ukrainian citizens and combating manifestations of terrorism and separatism". This, he claimed, was because they had been recruited under Viktor Yanukovych, the president overthrown in the uprising which began in the Maidan. Mykola Velichkovych, the deputy interior minister, echoed: "In the east we have seen numerous acts of sabotage from the side of the police, they have let us down."

This, however, was from a government which, I recall, the Ukrainian military in Crimea complained had effectively abandoned them, offering no leadership or guidance as they faced weeks of siege and intimidation from Russian forces and separatist paramilitaries, as the territory was being annexed by Vladimir Putin.

Nevertheless, the Kiev administration continues to talk tough, as it did while losing Crimea: various ministers have announced that an "anti-terrorist operation" was under way. We have not seen any overt signs of that, but that, one supposes, is the nature of some of these missions.

There were reports that a convoy of National Guard, the force formed with a nucleus from protestors from the Maidan, the centre of the uprising which brought the Kiev government into power, were on their way from the capital. It remains unclear, however, how much faith Mr Turchynov has in his troops. According to his official website, the Ukrainian President telephoned the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, to ask for UN peacekeepers to hold joint "anti-terrorist operations" with his forces.

Mr Turchynov, one may surmise, has a somewhat loose idea of what exactly UN peacekeepers exactly do. In any event, Russia's veto at the Security Council would scupper any mission not to the Kremlin's taste.

Masked pro-Russian militiamen stand guard inside the regional police building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka yesterday Masked pro-Russian militiamen stand guard inside the regional police building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka yesterday (AFP)

Moscow was also considering an appeal. It came from separatists who had taken over the police station at Slovyansk. They were seeking protection from the Ukrainian military. The protest in the city has yet to face any onslaught from Kiev, although that may come. The only death so far had been of a Ukrainian Special Forces officer shot by separatist gunmen on Sunday, in what was the first gun battle of the confrontation.

Despite Mr Turchynov's strictures about Yanukovych-era police, the officers at Horlivka resisted for a long time against a baying crowd of several hundred with masked men in the forefront. The station chief, Andrei Krischenko, was personally involved in a scuffle with a young man who was trying raise the Russian flag on a balcony. The protestor fell to the ground suffering, according to his friends, a broken neck.

Commander Krischenko was himself injured, with cuts to his head, and later driven away in an ambulance. "We allowed that to happen, he would not be harmed" said Andrei, one of the separatist leaders later inside the station. "We are disciplined men, but the crowd outside were very angry, you could not really blame them after what happened: he would have been hanged if they caught him."

The chief had been asked several times in the last 24 hours to change sides with his men, or hand over the station, but he refused to do either. Was he corrupt, or inefficient, unpopular with residents? "The previous chief, Panaichik, was really corrupt, but this man has only been here two weeks, sent by Kiev" shrugged Andrei. Was he then regarded as an agent of the new administration? "We haven't seen any evidence of that. At the end we asked him to join the people, or just go, and he refused. So we had to take direct action."

The pro-Moscow demonstrators claimed that a number of policemen have already joined them. Those inside did not look wildly enthusiastic, but firmly denied that they had been coerced. Officer Kochergin's choice was quite simple: "I am part of a team which co-ordinates across the area; we are here to take the calls whatever's the political situation, people depend on us, we can't let them down, I'll continue working as long as they allow me to."

What did the future hold for him and his colleagues? "I really, really don't know, we have no idea what's happening in Kiev..." At that point a man in casual civilian clothing came in and instructed him not to say any more. The man told me, quite politely, that the officer needed to get on with his job, "there is a lot of work to be done."

Read more: EU mulls further economic sanctions against Russia
Analysis: Both sides in the conflict lay claim to the truth

Generally, the protestors echoed demands made in the other towns and cities where official buildings had been taken over, 11 of them so far: Slovyansk, Yenakiyevo, Horlivka, Artemivsk, Kramatorsk, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Zaporizha, Donetsk, Makiyivka and Druzhkivka, forming the Peoples' Republic of Donetsk.

"These things the illegal regime in Kiev has been saying about the Russians organising everything is nonsense, it is just an excuse for them not to give us a referendum", said Pavel, a schoolteacher. "We are not going to ask to join Russia, just have a federal system, we want to have some control over our own government in Donbass; we can stay in Ukraine. We are not Crimea."

A little while later however, the protestors announced that Aleksandr Feodorovich Shulzhenko, had been appointed as the new police chief; he would not answer to senior officers in Kiev, but instead to the police chief at Simferopol - the capital of Crimea. A local news outlet reported that a lieutenant colonel from the Russian army in Crimea, unnamed, had been appointed to the chain of command; this, however, could not be verified.

As I was leaving the police station a man came running up. He had, he said, something important to say. "I have lived in Horlivka all my life, I am 60 years old, and I have never seen most of these people, they are strangers", insisted Vladimir Petric (not his full name). "I once ran to be a deputy [MP] and I was an assistant to a deputy, so I know about politics, what is going on in my city. But this was organised elsewhere, they brought it ready made into Horlivka.

"I have a lot of connections with Russia, I like Russia, I lived in Moscow; but what is happening now is astonishing, unbelievable. We think Putin will invade stealthily; the Kiev lot are incompetent, but they will have to fight and then there will be a lot of people killed. I worry about my country, my city."

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Teaching Assistants urgently r...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:We are looking for a ...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the UK ...

KS1 Teacher

£80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Key stage 1 Teacher - Gloucest...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week