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Residents Divided Over Protests

Published: April 23, 2014 (Issue # 1807)



  • A masked pro-Russian activist looking down from a balcony of an occupied Donetsk administration building.
    Photo: Max Vetrov / AP

YENAKIIEVE, Ukraine — In the wake of pro-Russian protests in the Ukrainian town of Yenakiieve — the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych — residents are divided over the protests and over their former leader.

The atmosphere in the town over the weekend was calm, with little remaining evidence of Ukrainian media reports that pro-Russian protesters had seized City Hall, the police headquarters and security service building there earlier this month.

Four unarmed pro-Russian demonstrators stood near City Hall as police officers patrolled nearby, and no barricades were to be seen in the area. Both the protesters and police denied that any seizure of the building had taken place, saying that demonstrators had peacefully entered the building, and that the city administration was still functioning as usual.

Near the police headquarters, neither protesters nor barricades could be seen. Yevgeny, a 34-year-old taxi driver, said that pro-Russian activists had entered the police headquarters and security service building last week in an effort to find weapons but had left them shortly afterwards.

Most locals declined to give their last names, citing fears for their safety.

By Sunday, the protesters had also left City Hall, and a flag of the People’s Republic of Donetsk — an entity proclaimed by pro-Russian activists — on the building had been replaced by a Ukrainian one, 30 Days, a Yenakiieve-based news site, reported. By Monday the demonstrators had again entered the building and hoisted a flag of the republic, according to the site.

Protests in the Donetsk region where Yenakiieve is located have intensified in recent weeks, with demonstrators — including men armed with firearms — seizing administrative buildings in cities across the region. Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian special forces of being involved in the unrest, a claim that the Kremlin denies.

Yenakiieve represented a sharp contrast over the weekend with the more tense situation in the Donetsk region city of Slovyansk, where armed pro-Russian gunmen seized major administrative buildings earlier this month and now effectively control the area.

Some locals in Yenakiieve expressed support over the weekend for the pro-Russian protesters’ demands.

Denis, a 29-year-old assistant engine driver, said he was in favor of joining Russia because of higher pensions and wages and lower taxes there.

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