As part of an anti-terrorist operation launched by Ukraine, police have arrested around 70 violent protesters who seized Kharkiv’s regional administration building Sunday. The 70 are being charged with separatist-related crimes, organizing mass disorder, damage to human health and other crimes.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have addressed the attacks on Eastern administrative buildings with statements accusing Russia of serious involvement. Kerry said that the demonstrations did not “appear to be a spontaneous set of events” and made mention of Russian intelligence operatives being arrested in Ukraine. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that there was “strong evidence” some pro-Russian demonstrators were not local residents and had been paid.
In Eastern Ukraine Sunday pro-Russian forces entered the government buildings of several cities. The forces—large groups of masked men—removed Ukrainian flags, announced the dissolution of the regional parliament, and called on Russia for help.
In Kharkiv a force of around 300 activists seized a building and flew the Russian flag from windows before being removed by Ukrainian police and arrested.
In Donetsk, a force of around 200 seized the governor’s office, announcing that they would dissolve the regional parliament. A group used stun grenades to force themselves past police in order to enter administration offices in Luhansk. The group stormed the security service’s regional directorate, injuring three people and seizing weapons.
The rebel forces called for a referendum on federalization and a boycott of Ukraine’s May 25 national election. It was also reported that in Kharkiv the group who stormed the building shouted “Berkut” and, “The police are with the people.” The group forced their way through a line of police guarding the building with shields, and some of these officers stepped aside, reportedly.
Berkut is the name of a special police force within Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Berkut was blamed for the nearly 100 civilian deaths that happened at the Maidan protests. The interim Ukrainian government signed for the dissolution of the unit. The Crimean unit of Berkut, which has been incorporated into the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, preserved the use of the name.
Roads have been closed in some regions and police investigations have begun.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk commented on the events, saying that the Russian government was trying to split up Ukraine by dividing the country and bringing certain territory into “slavery under a Russian dictatorship.”
Yatsenyuk stated that the Ukrainian government had a clear action plan to counteract Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine. First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov were dispatched to Kharkiv and Donetsk to address the situations in those cities, Yatsenyuk announced Sunday. The prime minister had also said that he was certain that the government would be able to bring order back to the destabilized regions, as it had in Kharkiv.
Also in response to the events in Eastern Ukraine, acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, convened a special meeting to address pro-Russian movements after cancelling a planned trip to Lithuania.
From Russia, announcements were made publicly by the Foreign Ministry that they had received “sacks of letters” from Ukrainian residents asking Russia to protect their rights and freedoms. Victor Sorokin, the head of the Ministry, said that the letters complained of a lack of “free access to mass media” and to “freely talk in their native language.”
Ukraine recently cut off Russian television channels, claiming that the channels were being used to convey misinformation and propaganda. Language rights in Ukraine were affected when the parliament cancelled 2012 legislation that allowed for minority languages, such as Russian, to be recognized officially in Ukraine. This legislative act preceded the armed takeover of Crimea by pro-Russian and Russian forces.
By Day Blakely Donaldson