Pro-Russia rebels defy deadline in eastern Ukraine

Separatists seize more buildings and military airport

Separatists seize more buildings and military airport

GORLIVKA, Ukraine – Pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Ukraine city of Gorlivka seized a district police station Monday April 14, hours after a government deadline for the militants to surrender expired.

Early Monday afternoon, a mob of  separatists - mostly young and middle aged irregulars in balaclavas and surgical masks -  appeared outside Gorlivka’s district police headquarters hurling rocks and smoke grenades at the building. The group easily made its way inside and proceeded to ransack the offices, removing most of its valuable hardware.

A group of women loyal to the rebel cause were later seen hauling out computer hard drives from the offices.

The group proceeded to build a makeshift tire barricade, marked by the self-proclaimed ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’ and Russian Federation flags.

The local police, most of whom defected to the militants’ side, were later told they were under the command of a uniformed Russian citizen who identified himself as a colonel in the Russian armed forces, the Moscow Times reported. The police were later ordered to attach orange and black St. Giorgi ribbons - symbols of the pro-Russia rebels -  to their shoulder patches. 

Several members of the police were also seen inside the station co-operating with the separatists, all wearing ribbons to signify their new allegiance.

At an evening press conference held inside the police station, the group’s leader Alexander Sapunov said a ‘people’s self-defense force’ made up of local volunteers had been formed and would defend the building. 

Members of radical, Russian ultra-nationalist group Russky Blok were later seen being welcomed into the building by the local police.

The group’s appearance comes after an unidentified source in Crimea told AA late last week that members of Russky Blok would be bussed from the peninsula to the Donetsk region to take part in the events.

The group is known to have participated in Crimea raids led by Russian special forces, including the seizure of Belbek airport.

The separatist group also said in the press conference that they had agreed to a mutual self-defense pact with similar rebel groups in Lugansk and Slovyansk.

Sapunov also announced that ex-Berkut member Alexander Shulzhenko, who participated in the February 20-21 shootout in Kiev that left more than 80 dead, had been named as the city’s new chief of police.

“We expect an attack from the fascist Pravy Sektor (ultra-nationalist group Right Sector) at any moment. We are ready for them as we have help from Lugansk and Slovyansk,” a pro-Russia separatist who identified himself as Pavel said.

A Pravy Sektor representative dismissed the claim saying he hoped the group’s increased anxiety would make them easier to fight against in the event of a civil war.

In a speech broadcast on national television Sunday, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the separatists to surrender their weapons and withdraw from the buildings currently under their control by early Monday morning. 

Those who peacefully withdrew would be granted a full amnesty, while those who remained would be subject to an anti-terror operation involving the Ukrainian military, Turchynov said.

- Military air base seized, planes buzz U.S. ships

An armed, masked pro-Moscow group, wearing Russian-made uniforms and armed with late-model Kalashnikovs seized a military airport in Slovyansk in an operation similar to those seen in Crimea in late February.

Meanwhile,  Russian Su-24 fighter jets were seen buzzing U.S. warship USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea on Monday.

The jets were reported to have made 12 low-level passes over the ship before withdrawing.

"This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with their national protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries," said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

- Turchynov calls for UN peacekeepers

Turchynov on Monday called on the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in Ukraine as a complimentary force to the government’s announced anti-terror operations. 

In a joint conversation with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Turchynov proposed conducting a joint operation with U.N. forces.

Turchynov also said he would support national referendum on autonomy during the May 25 presidential elections.

“We are not opposed to the idea… I am certain that in the course of such a referendum an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians would vote for a united Ukraine."

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