Anti-government protesters calling for closer ties with Moscow seized regional government headquarters in two cities in Ukraine’s east on Sunday, in the most serious unrest there in the past month.
Around 200 pro-Russian demonstrators broke into the government building in the industrial city of Donetsk, raising a Russian flag and demanding the local council call a referendum on the industrial region joining Russia. Protesters also seized the regional government building in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
The unrest comes amid a Russian warning, repeated several times in March, that it is prepared to intervene to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east and south from alleged threats of attack by Ukrainian nationalists. Russia says the government in Kiev, swept to power by protests that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian ally, is illegitimate. Moscow last month invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and has massed tens of thousands of troops on its western border with Ukraine, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.
Pro-Russian protests that flared in Ukraine’s eastern cities after Yanukovych’s ouster late February had appeared to be fading. While the crowds of several hundred demonstrators in Donetsk were no larger than at other protests in recent weeks, Sunday marked the first time in nearly a month that government buildings had been seized in the eastern region of the country.