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1 Mar, 2014 15:59

Thousands rally against 'illegitimate govt', raise Russian flags in eastern Ukraine

Thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators across eastern Ukraine and Crimea are protesting against the new government, with administration buildings being seized in several cities. Gunshots have been reported as anti- and pro-Maidan protesters clash.

Protesters in Kharkov and Donetsk stormed local government offices and removed Ukrainian flags, replacing them with the Russian tricolor on Saturday.

Between 7,000 to 10,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of Donetsk, a large industrial city in eastern Ukraine. Reportedly, protesters seized the regional administration building. While a group of demonstrators were storming the building from the central entrance, a crowd in Lenin Square in front of it kept chanting “Russia!”

Донецк. Площадь Ленина #Крыму #Украины#Ukraine #антимайдан #майдан #малороссия #евромайдан #новороссияpic.twitter.com/5uIxIJwND5

— Антимайдан (@anti_maydan) March 1, 2014

The participants of the rally were demanding to hold a referendum on the future of the region, and particularly, on the status of Russian language.

Later in the day, Donetsk City Council held an extraordinary session and approved an idea of holding a referendum on the future fate of the Donetsk region. The council also supported the initiative on setting up municipal militia squads to protect citizens from possible aggression by radical nationalists, reported Itar-Tass. Additionally, authorities decided to introduce Russian as a second official language in the region.

The City Council refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government in Kiev and declared itself the only legitimate body in the city, according to ZN.UA.

The decisions were read out to the crowd of demonstrators, who praised the move.

Earlier, according to a local news portal, a scuffle occurred between Party of Regions supporters and the so-called Volunteers’ Crops commanded by activist Pavel Gubarev, who was spontaneously proclaimed “regional governor.” Addressing the crowd, Gubarev said the authorities in Kiev were illegitimate and called for establishing popular rule. He then urged demonstrators to set up a peaceful protest camp in front of the regional government’s office.

In Kharkov, the largest city in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters managed to break through the cordon of Maidan supporters and captured the government building. The storming was accompanied by clashes and shooting, RBC daily reported.

Фото дня pic.twitter.com/4S5RyCLOIc

— Sputnik & Pogrom (@sputnikipogrom) March 1, 2014

Многотысячный митинг-антимайдан на площади свободы сейчас #Харьковpic.twitter.com/N8HT6MAlXT

— АлексАндер МихайЛов (@belgorodmaster) March 1, 2014

Some 111 people have been injured in clashes between anti- and pro-Maidan demonstrators, reported Itar-Tass, citing the city’s mayor, Gennady Kernes.

At least 10 explosions were heard, both in the building and in the area around it. At least one policeman was among those hurt in the clashes, according to Itar-Tass.


— АлексАндер МихайЛов (@belgorodmaster) March 1, 2014

One of the demonstrators got on to the roof of the administration building, waving the Russian flag. Meanwhile, pro-Maidan activists, who barricaded themselves inside one of the offices, are hanging a white flag out of the window. Police were accompanying injured supporters of the new government out of the building to ambulances, Unian agency reports.

Activists from Right Sector radical group, who were inside the building, “were throwing explosives, perhaps even grenades, into public transport,” Kharkov Mayor Kernes told journalists. “They also opened fire at protesters,” he added and showed a cartridge for a Kalashnikov assault-rifle which was found inside the building. According to the mayor, “120 cocktail bombs, two mines and drugs” were discovered at the site.

Pro-Russian protesters raise a Russian flag in front of the regional administration building during a rally in the industrial Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 1, 2014. (AFP Photo/Alexander Khudoteply)

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, around 6,000 people marched, chanting “Russia!” and “No to Fascism!” and carrying a huge Russian flag.

Thousands were also demonstrating with Russian and Soviet flags in Odessa, the third-largest city in the country. According to police, around 5,000 people took part in the gathering, while organizers insist there were up to 20,000.

Protests were also held in Lugansk, Melitopol, Yevpatoria, Kerch and Mariupol.

Pro-Russian protesters wave a Russian flag during a rally in the industrial Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 1, 2014. (AFP Photo/Alexander Khudoteply)

Crimeans began protesting after the new self-proclaimed government in Kiev introduced a law abolishing the use of other languages for official documents in Ukraine. More than half the Crimean population are Russian and use only this language for their communication. The residents have announced they are going to hold a referendum on March 30 to determine the fate of the Ukrainian autonomous region.

Pro-Russian protesters with Russian flags take part in a rally in central Donetsk March 1, 2014 (Reuters / Stringer)

Pro-Russian protesters wave Russian flags and hold a banner reading "Donetsk region is with Russia" during a rally in the industrial Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 1, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

A line of police stand guard as pro-Russian protesters wave Russian flags during a rally in front of the regional administration building in the industrial Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 1, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)