Hundreds of pro-Russian militants on Thursday seized the prosecutor’s office in the separatist-held Ukrainian city of Donetsk, injuring at least six, including journalists and police. Kiev responded by reintroducing military conscription.
Protesters moved in on the building by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails after what started as a peaceful demonstration in the city by some 10,000 pro-Russians.
Donetsk, a city of about 1 million people in Ukraine’s industrial east, is at the centre of an armed uprising across the steel and coal belt by mainly Russian-speakers threatening to secede from Ukraine.
Riot police initially fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets at the attacking crowd, but protesters quickly overpowered them, wresting protective shields and weapons away from them.
Reporting from the ground, FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Douglas Herbert said the “separatists stormed the building, disarmed the police who were inside (and) made them take off their helmets, their body armour, (and) took their shields.”
Once inside the building – which was empty for the May 1 public holiday – Herbert said the attackers burned down some of the interior and smashed some of the building’s windows. The Ukrainian flag was also brought down and replaced with “the Russian and pro-Donetsk republic” flag.
According to medical staff FRANCE 24 spoke to, there were at least six injured in the clashes, including both police and journalists.
“As we were leaving we saw the police being escorted. They were filing out of the building, some of them running after they had been disarmed,” Herbert said.
Following the seizure, Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchinov issued a decree bringing back the country’s military conscription with immediate effect to deal with the spreading pro-Moscow insurgency in the east.
The measure was being taken "given the deteriorating situation in the east and the south ... the rising force of armed pro-Russian units and the taking of public administration buildings ... which threaten territorial integrity," Turchinov's office said in a statement.
On April 17, Ukraine's parliament voted to "recommend to the acting president to restart conscription into the Ukraine armed forces without delay" in order to "bolster Ukraine's defence capabilities in connection with aggression from the Russian Federation".
Ukraine scrapped compulsory military service for young men only this year, under a law introduced in 2013 by Viktor Yanukovich, the Kremlin-friendly president who ended up fleeing mass pro-Western demonstrations two months ago.
Ukraine currently has 130,000 personnel in its armed forces. With reserves, this could be boosted to around 1,000,000.
The Western-backed government in Kiev has admitted it has effectively lost control of the increasingly chaotic east, with interim president Oleksandr Turchinov saying authorities were "helpless" to prevent rebels over-running towns.
Rebels seized Donetsk’s regional administrative building on April 6 and the city hall on April 16.
Turchinov has criticised the police force for "inaction" and "in some cases treachery" as law enforcement bodies have stood aside while pro-Kremlin separatists seize buildings.
More than a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine are already in the grip of the separatists, who have vowed to hold a referendum on May 11 on independence from Kiev and closer ties with Russia.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-01