Militants storm police station in Ukraine to free activists

Pro-Russian group breaks down gates as Kiev blames police for riot deaths in Odessa

Sun, May 4, 2014, 17:04

About 300 pro-Russian activists forced their way into the Odessa police station, gathering in the courtyard, while about a thousand more surrounded the modern complex.

Several police officers stood at the front of the building talking to demonstrators.

Mr Yatseniuk dismissed Russian accusations that his government was provoking bloodshed in the east with an operation to restore Kiev’s authority in a series of cities under rebel control.

“The process of dialogue had begun, only it was drowned out by the sound of shooting from automatic rifles of Russian production,” he said.

Ukraine is divided between a largely Russian-speaking population in the industrial east and Ukrainian-speaking west, where more pro-European Union views prevail.

Moscow says Russian-speakers face threats from Ukrainian nationalist militants, an accusation Kiev denies.

Focus of tension today remained Odessa, traditionally a melting pot of cultures, with pro-Russians accusing Kiev of engineering events that led to the deaths on Friday.

“They are just standing there and shouting for us to release the detainees,” a spokesman for the regional police said. He said about 170 people were initially detained on Friday, but since then about 50 had been released.

The army suffered an embarrassing upset near the eastern town of Mariupol when soldiers at a checkpoint accepted food offered to them by a group presenting themselves as public spirited citizens.

Such donations have been common in recent weeks, as Ukraine’s forces suffer a serious lack of resources.

“It turned out that the food contained a substance that induced sleep among the servicemen,” the acting head of Mariupol criminal police department, Alexei Paniotov, said.

“After about half an hour, about 20 unidentified people arrived in three cars and, taking advantage of their helpless state, took them prisoner along with four automatic rifles, a grenade launcher, a machinegun and ammunition.”

The five soldiers, taken prisoner on Saturday, were released today after negotiations between police and pro-Russian militants.

In the course of the wrangling, pro-Russian activists built barricades through the centre of Mariupol.

There were no signs of Ukrainian forces pushing their declared campaign to remove separatists from eastern cities including Kramatorsk, Donetsk and the rebel stronghold of Slaviansk.

Kiev is organising a presidential election for May 25th. However, as things stand, it would have trouble conducting the vote in many parts of the east, a circumstance that would allow Russia to declare any government emerging as bereft of legitimacy.

Russia denies ambitions to seize eastern Ukraine as it has annexed the Crimea peninsula but reserves the right to send troops to defend Russian-speakers if it deems necessary.

Separatists who have declared a ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’ are planning a referendum on secession next Sunday. The capital Kiev has remained quiet since the protests that forced Yanukovich to flee to Russia.

But celebrations this week marking the anniversary of the Soviet victory in the second World War could be a source of tension.

Reuters