People gather in front of Ukrainian Interior Ministry
security forces members who form a cordon during a rally
outside a city police department in Odessa. REUTERS/Gleb
Pro-Russian militants stormed a Ukrainian police station
in Odessa and freed nearly 70 fellow activists as the country's
leaders lamented a police force they said was widely undermined
by graft or collaboration with separatists.
Militants chanted "We will not forgive!" and "Russia!" as
they smashed windows and broke down the gate at the compound
two days after over 40 pro-Russian activists died in a blaze
at a building they had occupied after clashes with pro-Kiev
Odessa police said 67 activists were allowed to walk free.
Some officers were offered the black and orange St. George's
ribbon, a Russian military insignia that has become a symbol
of the revolt, and were cheered by the crowd of several
Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, speaking in the Black Sea
port, was pointedly critical of the Odessa police: "If the
law enforcement system in Odessa had worked not exclusively
on the 'Seventh Kilometre' and had protected people, then
these terrorist organisations would have been foiled," he
The Seventh Kilometre is an open market on the edge of
Odessa, associated in the popular consciousness with the
corruption and black market business that have blighted
Ukraine's 23 years of post-Soviet independence.
Addressing hundreds of supporters of the Kiev authorities who
gathered near the site of the blaze late on Sunday, newly
appointed police chief Ivan Katerinchuk promised to bring
those behind Friday's deaths to justice, whatever their
allegiance: "Like you, I want to restore law and order to
Ukraine," he said.
Friday's clashes were the deadliest since Moscow-oriented
president Viktor Yanukovich was forced to flee in February
and pro-Russian militants launched uprisings in the
industrial east. They also marked the first serious disorder
far to the west of those eastern areas, heralding possible
trouble for Kiev.
Friday's deaths occurred after running clashes, involving
petrol bombs and gunfire, between supporters and opponents of
Moscow on the streets of Odessa, where the majority of people
speak Russian. The pro-Russian activists were trapped in a
building as it burned down.
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said separatists had
met resistance in Odessa but that police forces in the
eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, focus of support for
pro-Russian militants, were in disarray in the face of
"In these regions ... there are whole structures working
together with the terrorists," Turchinov said in a television
interview, employing the term Kiev applies to anti-Kiev
militants who have set up strongpoints in a string of eastern
towns. "This is a colossal problem."
Turchinov said Russian special forces were working with
success to destabilise Ukraine, helped by "guest stars from
Transdniestria" - a breakaway territory in eastern Moldova,
50 km (30 miles) from Odessa, that hosts a Russian military
NATO commanders have warned that Russia might hope to control
a swathe of southern and eastern Ukraine, including the
annexed Crimea, all the way to the border with
Outright civil war in Ukraine and the division of a country
the size of France would have serious implications for
countries around, not least for Russia and for NATO states
As rebellion simmered, questions were raised about the
ability of the army as well as police to confront insurgents.
Police in the eastern port of Mariupol said pro-Russian
rebels posing as sympathisers had presented soldiers at a
checkpoint with gifts of food.
"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 were freed after negotiations.
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
"The process of dialogue had begun, only it was drowned out
by the sound of shooting from automatic rifles of Russian
production," he said.
There was renewed diplomatic activity on Sunday.
Russia said it would try to organise talks between Kiev and
representatives from the south-east: "It appears that without
external help the Kiev authorities are not capable of
establishing such a dialogue," Russian deputy foreign
minister Grigory Karasin told Rossiya-24 television.
Germany's foreign minister said he was pressing for a second
international conference at Geneva to bring Russia and
Ukraine together with the United States and European Union to
settle the dispute. Moscow and Kiev accuse each other of
wrecking a four-way accord to end the conflict signed at
Geneva on April 17.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela
Merkel discussed the Ukraine crisis in a telephone call and
stressed the importance of "effective international action"
to reduce tension, the Kremlin said on Sunday.
A German government spokeswoman said they had also discussed
a visit to Moscow on Wednesday by the head of the OSCE, the
European security body which has been trying to mediate on
the ground but saw some of its monitors held for a week by
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.
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
Kiev is organising a presidential election for May 25.
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
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 World
War Two could be a source of tension.