Ukraine crisis: ‘If they storm us, they will end up killing a lot of civilians’, say pro-Russian occupiers of administrative building in Donetsk

Armed with Molotov cocktails, defended by razor wire, the separatists tell Kim Sengupta they are ready to fight Kiev’s forces

Donetsk

One of the men tore off his balaclava, declaring he was not afraid to be identified; the face beneath was painted bright blue. Another was armed with what appeared to be a harpoon, others were preparing Molotov cocktails. Outside piles of tyres, bags of cement and rolls of razor wire were being assembled. The Peoples’ Republic of Donetsk was preparing fresh defences against an expected onslaught.

The Ukrainian government, which is under heavy public pressure to act decisively, has given an ultimatum of 48 hours to the separatists in this eastern city to disarm and leave the administrative building they had been occupying, or face an attack.

It remains uncertain whether they would be prepared to carry out the threat, bringing with it the near certainty of casualties and the possibility of intervention by the Kremlin. The administration in Kiev do not need reminding that Vladmir Putin’s authorisation from his Parliament for using troops was not just for Crimea, which was subsequently annexed, but applied to all of Ukraine.

The acting interior minister in Kiev, Arsen Avakov, had announced that a “special police task force” had already arrived in Donetsk. There was, however, no security presence near the “siege” in the city centre. Two policemen at a street corner were bemused to be asked why they were not part of a force trying to evict the squatters. “If Kiev want to take it, they will send their troops; we are not in a position to do anything right now,” one of them shrugged. “We are waiting for orders,” his companion added.

Twenty miles to the west, Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers and light artillery had been stopped by pro-Russian local people lined up across the road. There were prolonged arguments; the officers tried to stress that they were, in fact, headed for the border, across which 40,000 Russian troops are reported to be stationed.

The demonstrators accused them of lying, accusing them of trying to “invade Donetsk”. As the impasse continued, 63-year-old Liliana accused the soldiers of being rough earlier on. “They were pushing people on to the ground, twisting arms behind their backs” she said. “They were trying to part the way through women with their vehicles, I was in the army once. I thought the behaviour was disgusting.”

After a while the convoy headed off on another route; the protestors were convinced they were seeking a way into the city, some of them took off in two elderly cars and a pick-up truck through side roads to intercept.

Pro-Russian protesters also erected banners stating their opposition to Ukraine’s plans for closer ties with the West Pro-Russian protesters also erected banners stating their opposition to Ukraine’s plans for closer ties with the West (Getty Images)
In Kiev, acting president Oleksandr Turchynov hoped that troops may not be needed after all. He offered an amnesty to the separatists in Donetsk and nearby Luhansk, where the headquarters of the state security organisation has been taken over, promising “there would be no criminal prosecution of people who give up their weapons and leave the buildings, I am willing to do this by presidential order. “

There was no inclination for a compromise inside the administrative building in Donetsk. “This so called amnesty is no different from the ultimatum; they want us to give up this building, we won’t do that. We are not going to leave until we get a referendum. They want us to surrender our weapons; what will we have to defend ourselves when the fascists from Kiev come?” Aleksei Babanin, who was carrying a baseball bat, wanted to know. “If they storm us, they will end up by killing a lot of civilians. Then we will definitely need Russian peacekeepers,” he stated.

The Ukrainian authorities had earlier ended a similar stand-off in Kharkiv, arresting 70 people, without recourse to firearms. “They will find it very difficult to force us out, see how narrow the stairs are, they will have to take this floor by floor,” said Nicolai, who claimed to have been a gunner with Russian forces in Chechnya. “We are prepared for any assault, we are well prepared.”

In the group, he maintained, there were around 800 “trained men ready to defend the building” but refused to discuss what kind of weapons they have. In Luhansk, Tatyana Pogukai, an officer with the police, said the barricaded activists had a variety of arms, including “200 to 300 Kalashnikov automatic rifles. They are not going to give them up until they get a referendum.”

That was also the rallying cry among the crowd of around 1,000 in Donetsk outside the administrative building, with posters stating: “US and EU, hands off Donetsk” and “Yesterday Crimea: Today Donbass”. Valentina Komorowski, a 38-year-old accountant wanted to know, “Why is it all right for Scotland to have a referendum and not us? They even have those people in Africa getting a separate country [South Sudan] but not us.”

Svetlana Vorosilovina was adamant that the Donbass region could not stay with the west of the country, “because there is always the danger that those fascists from the Maidan [the centre of protests in Kiev] will come and do terrible things. Did you say you were in the Maidan? Then you must have seen they beheaded people there?” Mrs Vorosilovina, 76, simply would not accept that it did not happen.

Her granddaughter, Natalya, smiled: “She’s a bit confused, maybe she is confusing it with Syria, isn’t that what people backed by America and Britain are doing, cutting off peoples’ heads? A big emotion here is fear, maybe some of it is due to propaganda, but we see all these right-wing people getting into government in Kiev and for people like my grandmother, it brings back memories of the War, of Nazis. People in the West wouldn’t understand that.”

Half an hour later, the loudspeaker started playing music: battle hymns of the Red Army from the Great Patriotic War.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried