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16 Mar, 2014 18:40

Ukraine's east on fire: Kharkov demands referendum, Donetsk prosecutor’s HQ stormed

Demonstrators in Kharkov, north-east Ukraine, have appealed to Russia to pass to the UN their demands over a referendum on the federalization, while hundreds of protesters in Donetsk stormed a prosecutor’s office demanding to free a local “governor”.

As Crimea decides on its future in a referendum, Sunday in eastern Ukraine was marked by a fresh series of pro-Russian rallies.

In Kharkov, the country’s second-largest city, between 1,500 to 3,000 protesters gathered on the central square demanding a referendum on federalizing Ukraine.

Our city has been Russian and will remain such albeit within Ukraine. We are ready to live in a single country but on our terms,” one of the activists, leader of Civic Platform movement Yury Apukhtin announced from a stage, as cited by Itar-Tass.

After the so-called “popular assembly”, the crowd of demonstrators - chanting pro-Russian slogans and carrying a huge 100-meter long tricolor - proceeded to Russia’s consulate general where they handed over a letter addressed to President Vladimir Putin.

People carry a giant Russian flag during a pro-Russian rally in Kharkiv March 16, 2014.(Reuters / Stringer)

Protesters, on behalf of Kharkov’s assembly, asked Putin to “guarantee their rights and freedoms” and pass to the United Nations their demands regarding a referendum on the federalization, which they plan for April 27, reported Ukrainian National News (UNN) website. Additionally, activists asked to deploy Russian peacekeepers to Kharkov region, adding that they fear for their lives and property.

The demonstrators then marched to the nearby consulate of Poland, protesting against Western interference into Ukrainian affairs.

Kharkov protesters also looted the building housing offices of radical-nationalist organizations, including the Right Sector group, reported Interfax-Ukraine. The activists broke into the building, took out books and nationalist symbols and burnt them.

Pro-Russian activists hold giant Russian flags during their rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 16, 2014.(AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Donetsk rally demands release of 'people’s governor'

Several thousand pro-Russian protesters took to the streets in Donetsk, a large industrial city in eastern Ukraine.

The demonstrators demanded that the parliament, Verkhovna Rada “remove from power the illegitimate Cabinet and cancel its decision,” cited Itar-Tass. They also urge the creation of a new coalition government, the composition of which would be agreed with the people. Protesters said it was necessary to go back to the February 21 agreement on the crisis settlement, which was signed by ousted President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders and provides for early parliamentary and presidential elections.

Among other demands is giving Russian language a status of a second official tongue and an investigation of killings of law enforcers and protesters on Kiev’s Maidan Square in February.

Pro-Russian demonstrators scuffle with police during a rally in Donetsk March 16, 2014 (Reuters / Stringer)

A crowd of up to 2,000 people reportedly stormed the regional Prosecutor’s Office, demanding to free “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev. The political activist – who was spontaneously proclaimed the governor during a demonstration on March 1 - was detained on March 6 on charges of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, takeover of power, and seizure of government buildings.

Demonstrators broke into in the building, smashed windows, tore off and threw away the Ukrainian national flag and replaced it with Russian, according to Interfax.

Activists also reportedly entered into the office of a company owned by oligarch Sergey Taruta, the head of the regional administration appointed to the post by Kiev authorities. Protesters stated that they consider the governor illegitimate, reported RIA Novosti. Having not found Taruta in the building, protesters then marched to the regional administration office.

Meanwhile, Kiev sent heavy military hardware to the borders with Russia. Activists in eastern Ukraine regions, including Donetsk and Lugansk, were reportedly blocking trains delivering military equipment from the central and western parts of Ukraine.

Pro-Russian activists hold Russian flags and flags with the colours of the ribbon of Saint George, a Russian military decoration, as they storm the prosecutor's office in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 16, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Dnepropetrovsk demands action

In the Ukrainian eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk, thousands have marched through the streets denouncing the nationalist coup in Kiev and demanding a referendum on the federalisation of Ukraine. They expressed their support for the residents of Crimea and referendum while calling on people to join Russia and Belarus.

Holding placards reading “Slavic unity!”, “Referendum - is better than war,” and waving Russian flags the activists chanted “Russia!” and “Berkut.”

Speakers in front of the Opera and Ballet theatre in the center of the city urged the participants of the meeting to move from “talk” to “action,” citing the examples of Kharkov and Donetsk. Earlier on Sunday, the regional head of Right Sector declared a general mobilization of the local “patriotic” forces due to tensions in Crimea, Ukrainian Pravda reports.

Lugansk holds ‘people's referendum’

In Lugansk, several thousand anti-coup activists were conducting a public poll by handing out “ballot papers” of “people's referendum” of Lugansk region. The poll raised questions of trust in the authorities in Kiev, the possibility of joining the Customs Union following the federalization of Ukraine.

One of the questions was about the international bailout: “Do you support reduction of social benefits and cancellation of benefits at the request of the IMF?”

“This is for all an opportunity to officially announce their choice. Now we have run out of 5,000 forms, we are rushing to print more,” organizer Irina Gotman told UNIAN.

Odessa stands strong against the coup

Thousands held a Pro-Russian rally in support of Crimea’s referendum in Odessa, despite calls from the city’s authorities not to participate in meetings. Organizers claim more than 5,000 people joined the demonstration.

The people were chanting “Ukraine and Russia – one country,” and “Odessa, be bold, drive the fascists out,” as they gathered in the center of the city.

“Odessa is against the coup in Kiev, paid for by the West and Ukrainian oligarchs who remained in power with the help deceitful extremists and militants. We are tired of living in poverty and we are no longer going to tolerate the tyranny of oligarchs and officials,” the head of the Resistance movement, Rostislav Bard told the rally.

Nikolaev calls for federalization of Ukraine

In Nikolayev, organizers say more than 5,000 people gathered to also hold a “public referendum” and show their support for Crimea.

The ballot included two simple yes or no questions: “Do you support a federal system of Ukraine,” and “Do you support the creation of a federal district Novorossia within Ukraine, including the Nikolayev, Odessa and Kherson regions?”

Riot police stand guard in front of a regional government building as pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in Kharkiv March 16, 2014 (Reuters / Stringer)