Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine (Dispatch Thirty-Two)
On International Workers Day, pro-Russia protesters marched through central Donetsk in eastern Ukraine calling for a referendum on the region's future. Some want to join Russia, while others to become a federal republic inside Ukraine — all want to separate from the interim government installed after the Euromaidan revolution. Around 3,000 protesters first gathered on Lenin Square before marching on to lay flowers at a WW1 memorial. The protesters chanted in support of the planned May 11th referendum and denounced the government in Kiev as a "fascist junta" while waving Stalin flags. The crowd wasn't entirely friendly, with one journalist, who was accused of being a "provocateur," was bundled into a car and driven away by protesters in body armor, his destination unknown.
The march moved on to a police station where they were able to negotiate installing the Donetsk republic flag before speakers called to take over the nearby prosecutors' office.
Outside the office, around 60 cops in riot gear were formed up, protecting the entrance. The protesters called for the prosecutor to come and meet them, but after five minutes clashes suddenly broke out. Stones were thrown and the police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Eventually the police were forced back by the onslaught, and there was a brief lull while the wounded were evacuated and the captured police were let go.
The crowd then moved to the back of the building, where about 100 police were gathered. Very quickly the protesters were able to hop the fences and force open the gate, surrounding the police and eventually forcing them to surrender. Police were then humiliatingly forced to hand over their shields, helmets, and batons before being lead out through the crowds, getting kicked and spat upon as they went.
The day before, acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said his government is "helpless" in dealing with the security situation in eastern Ukraine. The events on May 1st clearly backed that up. The police had little fight in them, and morale was surely worsened after such a humiliating clash. Today though, the Ukrainian government re-launched an operation to take the separatist stronghold of Slovyansk. Is this the start of a government fight back?