By Roman Olearchyk in Kiev and John Reed in Donetsk
The Ukrainian government was struggling to maintain law and order in the south and east of the country yesterday after furious demonstrators sought retribution for 42 mostly pro-Russian sympathisers killed in Odessa on Friday.
Dozens of pro-Russian activists attempted to break into a local police station in Odessa, seeking the release of scores of demonstrators detained over the weekend.
Friday’s battles between rival mobs – and the burning of a trade union building in which dozens died – was the worst violence since the ousting of Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, in February, and prompted fresh fears of Russian intervention.
The government is braced for more unrest in the run-up to May 9, a national holiday.
The assault on the police station ended with the release of 67 people suspected of involvement in Friday’s clashes, underlining the weakness of law enforcement.
Ukraine’s government reported some progress in its anti-separatist military campaign, with officials saying that security forces had regained control of a TV transmission tower and destroyed rebel checkpoints in Kramatorsk.
But in central Donetsk, the main city in eastern Ukraine, armed men were seen roaming the streets in a further sign of spreading lawlessness.
A mob of at least 1,000 pro-Russian activists, led by men armed with Kalashnikov rifles, marched through the city chanting, “we will not forgive Odessa”.
The crowd marched to the office of Donetskstal, a steel company, before overrunning a military prosecutor’s office a day after another crowd had ransacked the SBU security headquarters and the offices of Donbass Industrial Union, the company that is half-owned by the pro-Kiev governor Serhiy Taruta.
Germany yesterday called for another international conference to put an end to the crisis while Russia called plans for Kiev to proceed with the May 25 presidential vote “absurd”.
Ukraine’s interim prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, went to Odessa to appeal for unity while accusing Russia of provoking the clashes and the local police for complicity in the violence.
“If the law enforcement system in Odessa worked . . . and protected people, then all of these terrorist organisations would be disposed,” he said, promising a complete overhaul of local law enforcement.
Crisis in Ukraine
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin moved swiftly to annex Crimea, in the first land grab in Europe since the second world war, and the EU and US are worried over Moscow’s intentions elsewhere in Ukraine.
Mr Yatseniuk called on investigators to prosecute “all instigators, all organisers and all those that under Russian leadership began a deadly attack on Ukraine and Odessa”. (FT)