Pro-Russian protests broke out in Ukraine's east April 6, climaxing in the seizure of government buildings in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk. (See map.) Protesters in Donetsk declared their own "constituent assembly," and proclaimed the Donbas region to be a "people's republic." After clashing with riot police and breaking through their lines to enter the regional parliament chamber, the protesters raised the Russian flag from the building. Supporters outside cheered and chanted: "Russia, Russia!" A report by Russia's Interfax agency said the Donetsk protesters will push for a regional referendum by May 11 on unification with Russia. Protest camps have been established outside the government buildings in all three cities, with banners bearing messages such as "Putin, help!"
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Moscow of orchestrating events with the aim of creating a pretext for an invasion by Russian military forces, which have been mobilized to the border. "An anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation…under which foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of the country," Yatsenyuk told a government meeting in Kiev. "We will not allow this."
In a televised speech, interim president Oleksandr Turchinov also took a firm stand against the protesters, promising that "anti-terrorist operations will be carried out against those who had taken up weapons." Parliamentarians in Kiev are considering a measure to declare a state of emergency in eastern Ukrainian regions. (Kyiv Post, RTE, EurasiaNet, April 7; BBC News, April 6)