Tuesday morning was quiet in eastern and southern Ukraine, but the
deadliest few days since the separatist uprising began have
transformed the conflict, hardening positions and leaving little
room for peaceful resolution.
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 tires and tree trunks. Scattered red carnations
traced the route.
At the Holy Trinity Church, seven priests led mourners in prayer for
a woman killed by large caliber 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 the open casket of Andrey Biryukov
from a van to the street corner where he was shot.
A pro-Ukrainian activist, Biryukov, 35, was killed during a day that
began with hundreds of pro-Russian sympathizers 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 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
"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 past few days have seen government forces press on with an
offensive 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 military helicopters.
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.
The Ukraine crisis has led to a confrontation between Moscow and the
West unseen since the darkest days of the Cold War.
Since a pro-European government took power after the uprising that
toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in February, Russian
President Vladimir Putin overturned decades of diplomacy by
declaring Moscow's right to intervene to protect Russian speakers in
the neighboring former Soviet republic.
In March, Russia seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea region, 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 the population and a third of
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Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on Ukraine's eastern
frontier. The outbreak of violence in Odessa, hundreds of kilometers
away near a Russian-occupied breakaway region of neighboring
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, beamed
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 mobilized," tweeted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl
Germany struck an even more ominous note.
"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 warned in interviews published in
four European newspapers.
However, so far Western anger 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.
NATO has made clear it will not fight to protect Ukraine, instead
beefing up defenses of its nearby member states. NATO's top military
commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said on Monday
Russia was deploying special forces in eastern Ukraine and he now
believed Moscow might be able to achieve its goals without resorting
to a conventional invasion.
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 centered around
"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
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
But that deadline could be too late to prevent Ukraine from being
dismembered: separatists in the Donbass region say they will hold a
referendum on secession two weeks earlier, on Sunday, similar to the
one that preceded Russia's annexation of Crimea.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in Kiev and Randall Palmer
in Ottawa; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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