A pro-Russian armed separatist stands guard on a street in
Donetsk. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin
Both sides have been burying their dead as Ukraine slides
further towards war, with supporters of Russia and of a united
Ukraine accusing each other of tearing the country apart.
Tuesday was generally quieter than past days in most of
eastern and southern Ukraine, but violence flared in the
eastern port of Mariupol in the evening, according to local
The Web site 0629.com.ua posted pictures of tyres blazing
outside the city council building, which had already been
occupied by pro-Russian protesters and thick smoke pouring
over the city centre. Some streets were barricaded by buses
or walls of tyres and people heard shooting near a local
In Kramatorsk, a separatist-held town in the east that saw an
advance by Ukrainian troops at the weekend, the coffin of
21-year-old nurse Yulia Izotova was carried through streets
stilled by barricades of tyres and tree trunks on Monday.
Scattered red carnations traced the route.
At the Holy Trinity Church, seven priests led mourners in
prayer for a woman killed by large calibre bullets, which the
townsfolk believe were fired by Ukrainian troops.
"They shoot at us. Why? Because we don't want to live with
fascists?" asked 58-year-old passport photographer Sergei
Fominsky, standing with his wife among the mourners. "We're
not slaves. We kneel to no one."
In Odessa, a previously peaceful, multi-ethnic Black Sea port
where more than 40 people were killed on Friday in the worst
day of violence since a February revolt toppled Ukraine's
pro-Russian president, pall-bearers carried Andrey Biryukov's
open casket from a van to the street corner where he was
A pro-Ukrainian activist, Biryukov, 35, was killed during a
day that began with hundreds of pro-Russian sympathisers
armed with axes, chains and guns attacking a Ukrainian march,
and ended later that night with the pro-Russians barricaded
inside a building that was set on fire, killing dozens.
A small crowd of about 50 people stood around the body,
covering it with carnations and roses. A Ukrainian flag
fluttered in the wind, and a patriotic song about dead heroes
was played from a sound system.
Relatives wept and a young woman fell on her knees crying
loudly. The corner where the man died was decorated with
flowers and small Ukrainian flags.
"The government has failed to protect its own people. The
police have failed miserably," said Nikita, a grizzled
56-year-old with a Ukrainian yellow and blue arm-band.
Sergei, in his 40s, who also came to mourn, said violence
"was imported to Odessa".
"We were proud of Odessa as a unique place where people used
to live in peace, regardless of their beliefs and religion
and race," he said. "Now this is all gone."
The surge in violence has changed the tone of international
diplomacy, with even cautious European states speaking
increasingly of the likelihood of war in a country of around
45 million people the size of France.
"The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are
just a few steps away from a military confrontation," German
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in interviews
published in four European newspapers.
The next few days could prove decisive: separatists in the
eastern Donbass region say they will hold a referendum on
secession on Sunday May 11, similar to the one that preceded
Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. State Department denounced any attempt at a vote as
"bogus" and promised more sanctions if Russia used it, as in
Crimea, to send in forces or annex more territory: "This is
the Crimea playbook all over again," a spokeswoman said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he would meet ministers in
Europe next week to discuss the next steps on Ukraine.
Two days before the vote, Friday May 9, is the annual Victory
Day holiday celebrating the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi
Germany. Moscow has been openly comparing the government in
Kiev to the Nazis, and Ukrainian officials say they are
worried that the day could provoke violence. In Moscow, there
will be a massive parade of military hardware through Red
Square, a Soviet-era tradition revived by President Vladimir
The past few days have seen government forces press on with
an offensive but make little progress in the east, where
separatist rebels have so far held firm at their main outpost
in the town of Slaviansk and shot down three Ukrainian
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Tuesday more than 30
separatists had been killed in fighting around Slaviansk, but
there was no confirmation of such a figure. The rebels, who
triggered fighting in the area on Monday by ambushing
government troops, said four of their number had been killed.
At roadblocks in the town, some armed fighters have been
replaced by civilians, like Alexandra, in her late 20s, who
said she leaves her 10-year-old daughter at home each
morning, puts a starting pistol in her belt and walks to the
barricades. The tactic of putting civilians at the front
could make a government offensive more difficult.
"We have two options - to use heavy artillery ... wipe
everything out, put the flag up and report that everything
has been done. The second option is a gradual blockade,
destroying provocateurs and sabotage to prevent injuries
among the population. We are carrying out the second
scenario," said acting defence minister Mykhailo Koval,
explaining why the operation has taken so long and achieved
Since a pro-European government took power after the uprising
that toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich, Putin
overturned diplomatic convention by declaring Moscow's right
to send troops across borders to protect Russian speakers.
In March, Russia seized and annexed Crimea, and in the weeks
that followed, armed separatists have taken control of most
of the eastern Donbass coal and steel region, which accounts
for around 15 percent of Ukraine's population and a third of
Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on Ukraine's
eastern frontier. The outbreak of violence in Odessa,
hundreds of kilometres away near a Russian-occupied breakaway
region of neighbouring Moldova, means the unrest has spread
across the breadth of southern and eastern Ukraine.
Western countries say Russian agents are directing the
uprising and Moscow is stoking the violence with a campaign
of propaganda, broadcast into Ukraine on Russian state
channels, that depicts the government in Kiev as "fascists".
"Russia sometimes sounds as if it's refighting WW2. Fascism
all over the place. Enemies everywhere. Ghosts of history
mobilised," tweeted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
However, so far Western concern has not been matched by any
serious action that might dissuade Putin. The United States
and the European Union have imposed limited sanctions on
lists of individual Russians and small firms, but have held
back from measures designed to hurt Russia's economy broadly.
Nonetheless, a senior finance ministry official in Moscow
said Russian GDP could shrink again this quarter.
NATO has made clear it will not fight to protect Ukraine,
instead beefing up defences of its nearby member states.
NATO's top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip
Breedlove, said on Monday Russia had used special forces in
eastern Ukraine and he now believed Moscow might be able to
achieve its goals without resorting to a conventional
Western leaders have threatened to impose tougher sanctions
on Russia if it interferes with presidential elections in
Ukraine set for May 25, and most of their diplomacy has been
centred around that date.
"If (the election) doesn't take place, there will be chaos
and the risk of civil war," French President Francois
Hollande said. "The Russians, Vladimir Putin, at the moment
want this election not to happen so as to maintain the
pressure. It's up to us to convince them."
Petro Poroshenko, a Ukrainian confectionery baron who is
front-runner in the presidential election, said the vote
would go ahead despite the unrest: "We hope that we will be
able to complete the anti-terrorist operation before the
election. And where we cannot do so - we will surround (those
places) and not allow them to interfere with the election."
But Moscow has increasingly dismissed the prospect,
suggesting it will not accept the winner of the vote any more
than it accepts the interim government in power since
"Holding elections at a time when the army is deployed
against part of the population is quite unusual," Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference.