Video: Govt forces battle for control in east Ukraine
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An angry crowd gathered outside a police station in the port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday, demanding the release of fifteen pro-Russia separatists.
The separatists were arrested in an operation by government troops to take back control of Mariupol’s City Hall. Behind the police station’s fence, members of Ukraine’s special forces surveyed the growing throng of protesters.
Mariupol, a mainly Russian-speaking city of half a million people, is one of a number of towns and cities across eastern Ukraine where pro-Russia separatists have seized control of official buildings.
After initially offering little resistance, the Ukrainian government has now sent troops to the east to take back buildings lost to the separatists and show the population that it has the stomach and resources for a fight.
They briefly regained control of City Hall on Wednesday, but then withdrew, relinquishing control of the building back to the pro-Russia activists.
‘Kiev is the purest form of fascism’
Just as the situation outside the police station threatened to get out of control, government reinforcements arrived on the scene, firing warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
Anyone standing in the way was brutally knocked aside, subdued with punches, kicks and blows with rifle butts.
As terrified protestors ran for cover, the Ukrainian troops whisked their prisoners away.
It will take more than a display of force to win the support of eastern Ukraine. At Mariupol's City Hall, now back in separatist hands, protesters want to cut ties with Kiev once and for all.
"We're defending our rights, our city and our children. We're against fascism. What's going on in Kiev is the purest form of fascism,” says one separatist supporter.
“Just look who came to power there and how they came to power."
The Kiev government says 14 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 66 wounded since it launched its operation in the east last month.
With passions running high, compromise is not a popular word in cities like Mariupol and time to find a peaceful solution is rapidly running out.