Two people were killed in clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-Kiev supporters in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv, police said on Saturday, the second such deadly incident in as many days in the country’s tinderbox east.
One pro-Russia protester and a passerby were killed when Ukrainian nationalists opened fire on a group of men trying to storm their headquarters in the city late on Friday, police sources told AFP.
The deaths were likely to further fuel tensions in the region, coming less than a day after Russia warned that it reserved the right to protect compatriots in the whole of Ukraine.
Police said events leading to the deaths on Friday began when a group of nationalists opened fire from inside a car at a pro-Russian protest being held on Kharkiv’s central Svoboda (Freedom) Square.
No one was reported seriously hurt in the incident and a group of several dozen pro-Russian protesters chased the car, tracking it to the headquarters of the Patrioty Ukrainy (Ukrainian Patriots) nationalist group.
The pro-Russians tried to storm the building and the nationalists opened fire, killing one of them along with a passerby, police said.
The Patrioty Ukrainy group then took several hostages from other offices inside the building as the police arrived, the police sources told AFP.
Six people were injured in the ensuing gunfight, including a police offer who suffered serious wounds.
The nationalists eventually agreed to give up their arms and surrender. Police said they made 30 arrests.
It marked the second death in two days in Ukraine’s tinderbox east, where a pro-Kiev supporter was stabbed to death in the city of Donetsk late on Thursday.
Tensions have spiralled in the region ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Ukraine’s southern peninsula of Crimea on whether to secede from Kiev and switch to Kremlin rule.
An eleventh-hour diplomatic push by the United States to stop the referendum from going ahead failed on Friday, with Moscow refusing to make any decisions until after Crimea votes on a spilt from Ukraine on Sunday.
The majority Russian-speaking Black Sea peninsula has been given only two choices in a referendum hastily called by pro-Moscow authorities after a street revolt saw pro-EU protesters seize power in Kiev.
Crimeans can either vote to join Russia or for “the significant strengthening of their autonomy within Ukraine”.
World leaders are likely to step up pressure in the final hours before Sunday’s vote, expected to swing easily in favour of Russia despite discontent from the Muslim Tatar minority that makes up 12 percent of Crimea’s total population of two million.
The UN Security Council will vote Saturday on a resolution on Ukraine denouncing the referendum.
“The only objective of a resolution would be to get the Chinese to abstain and isolate Russia further,” a council diplomat said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday and afterwards said he still thought a negotiated solution was possible, although it was “clear we are at a crossroads”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-15