A May Day parade in Donetsk ended in a violent clash outside the regional General Prosecutor’s Office today, and the seizure of yet another government building by Kremlin-backed militants who want Ukraine's most populous oblast to secede.
Demonstrators who said they had come to hold a peaceful rally outside the office, which was guarded by about 100 riot police, demanded that the prosecutor come out to talk to them. When no one emerged, the crowd began to throw bricks and paving stones extracted from the park outside.
Rubber bullets were apparently fired from the windows, and stun grenades thrown. Protesters stormed the building and chased fleeing riot police down the street, stripping them of their shields and riot gear.
The militants said that three in their ranks were injured during the attack. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said one of their officers was injured.
The crowd which stormed the office was a hard-core 300 hundred or so, from more than 1,000 who had marched through the city centre at midday.
Waving Russian and Soviet flags, as well as those of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Russian Bloc and Communist parties, and even a huge portrait of Josef Stalin with the words "Death to Fascism," the generally good-natured crowd had marched from Lenin Square to the town militia headquarters, taking down Ukrainian flags outside an energy firm and a registration office on the way and replacing them with Russian ones.
Shouting “Russia!” and "Republic!” “[Donetsk Oblast governor Serhiy] Taruta out!” and “No Fascism!”, people said they were there to protest against the EuroMaidan Revolution and what they consider the illegitimate Ukrainian government in Kyiv, and to fight racism and fascism.
“We’ve always been internationalists here, and we won’t have nationalism and fascism in Donbas, we’ll fight to protect our land. We don’t need their revolution,” said teacher Ina Gogina. She approved of the many Russian flags among the crowd. “Donbas and Russia are one,” she said, citing shared Slavic culture, history and Russian Orthodox faith.
Outside the militia headquarters, the crowd shouted ‘The militia is with us!”
Police Chief Maxim Kirindyasov came out to say that “We are here to protect any citizen of Donbas against any threat.”
Some members of the ‘Donetsk People’s Militia’ were allowed inside the building to put up a flag of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.
Road police blocked roads to allow the march through the city, but later outside the prosecutors office there were apparently no city police officers backing up the besieged riot police.
"The ones here were all mercenaries and ran off, they were all scared,” said one militant in appropriated riot gear standing outside the building. “Our militia are with us.”
Other versions of events were already circulating among militants as soon as the storm of the office was over.
“There were about 100 people from west Ukraine hiding in there: Pravy Sektor provocateurs,” said one masked youth, who had found a huge bottle of a whisky in the building which he said he would save for Victory Day celebrations on May 9. “We had to smoke them out.” He said the storm had been meant to be “a peaceful demonstration. Then they started to shoot. That was their job, to provoke a conflict.”
Once inside the prosecutor’s office, protesters smashed more windows and threw out papers which they said were false property and income declarations from civil servants hiding their wealth. They levered open a row of garages in the yard and rolled out tires to start building barricades. A miner who lives nearby and took part in the storm rushed home to bring back sandwiches and a pair of shoes for a fellow militant who had lost one of his. A car parked outside blasted out Soviet songs from loudspeakers, and people sang along as they celebrated what one speaker at the rally earlier had called "May Day, the first holiday of our independent Donetsk People’s Republic.”
The atmosphere was once again mostly good-natured, but lingering gas from stun grenades was a reminder of the violent unrest threatening to engulf Donbas and neighbouring regions.
“Donbas put up with this mess in the country and remained patient for a long time,” retired miner Valery Parshen said at the march earlier, “but it’s unwise to anger such a region as Donbas. When we get angry, anything can happen. We haven’t really awoken yet, we’ve just rolled over. Just you wait till we get up.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.