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Heavy gunfire and fatalities reported near eastern Ukraine's Slovyansk (LIVE BLOG)

Meanwhile, a new special forces unit was drafted for Odessa after Friday's brutal clashes, the worst violence in Ukraine since February.

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: UKRAINE STRUGGLES FOR UNITY

UPDATE: 5/5/14 6:30 AM ET

Gunfire and fatalities in on the outskirts of Slovyansk

Reuters — Pro-Russian separatists ambushed Ukrainian forces on Monday, triggering heavy fighting on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was quoted as saying.

A Reuters correspondent said at least two separatist armored personnel carriers and several rebels fled the area, where almost continuous gunfire had been heard since morning.

The gunfire seemed closer to Slovyansk, in eastern Ukraine, than a day earlier.

"In the morning, a squad in the anti-terrorist operation was hit by an ambush by terrorist groups. They are using heavy weapons," Avakov was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine news agency near Slovyansk.

He said there were fatalities on the Ukrainian side but did give a figure.

UPDATE: 5/5/14 6:15 AM ET

A new special forces unit for Odessa

Reuters — Ukraine's Interior Minister said on Monday he had drafted a new special forces unit into the southern port city of Odessa after the "outrageous" failure of police to tackle pro-Russian separatists in a weekend of violence that killed dozens.

The violence in Odessa, a southwestern port with a broad ethnic mix from Russians and Ukrainians to Georgians and Tatars, is seen as something as a turning point in Kyiv; a warning of dangers if rebellion spreads beyond the Russian-speaking east.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the new Odessa force was based on "civil activists who wanted to help the Black Sea city "in these difficult days." The entire leadership of the local police had been sacked and could face criminal action.

The Odessa violence was the deadliest since Moscow-oriented president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in February and pro-Russian militants launched uprisings in the industrial east.

"The police in Odessa acted outrageously, possibly in a criminal fashion," Avakov said on his Facebook page. "The 'honor of the uniform' will offer no cover."

Ukrainian leaders have made it clear they see the police force across wide areas of the country as unreliable in the face of rebellion they say is backed by Moscow and led on the ground by Russian special forces. The units Avakov referred to emerged partly from the uprising against Yanukovych early this year.

That could fuel anger among the government's opponents, who accuse it of promoting "fascist" militant groups, such as Right Sector, which took part in the Kyiv uprising over the winter.

Loss of control of Odessa would be a huge economic and political blow for Kyiv, which accuses Moscow of scheming to dismember Ukraine, a country the size of France.

Odessa, a city of a million people, with a grand history as the cosmopolitan southern gateway for the tsars' empire, has two ports, including an oil terminal, and is a key transport hub.

It would also heighten Western concern that Ukraine, already culturally divided between an industrial, Russian-speaking east and a more westward looking west, could disintegrate.

UPDATE: 5/5/14 5:50 AM ET

Developments over the weekend

Read the news updates from Saturday and Sunday.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 4:50 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments or follow our Twitter list for updates.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 4:45 PM ET

Obama and Merkel warn Russia

Reuters — US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russia on Friday it will face additional sanctions against key sectors of its economy if Moscow disrupts Ukraine's plan to hold elections on May 25.

The two leaders linked the threat to the election when they addressed a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden after Oval Office talks dominated by the situation in Ukraine.

Obama and Merkel said they were united in vowing to move to the tougher sanctions but did not say specifically which sectors of the Russian economy would be targeted.

"If, in fact, we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25th, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions," Obama said.

The United States and European allies have been carefully watching the movements of 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine's eastern border and the takeover of buildings in cities in eastern Ukraine by armed pro-Russian militants.

They have warned that an outright invasion would trigger broad, damaging economic sanctions.

Obama and Merkel said they were determined the elections would go off peacefully and as scheduled so Ukraine could begin rebuilding its economy.

"The 25th of May is not all that far away," said Merkel. "Should it not be possible to stabilize the situation further, further sanctions will be unavoidable."

The United States and the European Union have already imposed several rounds of sanctions on specific Russians, including some on members of Putin's inner circle, and several companies.

Moscow thus far has largely shrugged off the penalties, although Obama said they were a factor in a decline in the Russian stock market and value of the ruble. The aim was not to punish Russia but to change its behavior, Obama said.

Energy and banking sectors are two of the most likely areas to be targeted if sanctions are widened. Europeans are concerned that going after Russia's energy market could hurt European economies that are dependent on its natural gas.

The two leaders were vague on how far the new round of sanctions might go if they were imposed.

"The idea that you're going to turn off the tap on all Russian oil or natural gas exports, I think, is unrealistic," said Obama. "But there are a range of approaches that can be taken not only in the energy sector but in the arms sector, the finance sector, in terms of lines of credit for trade — all (sectors) that have a significant impact on Russia."

Merkel said it could take time to wean Europeans off Russian natural gas. It was important to "look ahead in the medium term to what we can do in order to promote an energy union in the European Union," particularly assessing dependencies in the next 10 to 15 years, she said.

Obama called on Russia to persuade pro-Russian military groups in Ukraine to stand down and said it was disgraceful that the militias were holding international observers.

He said the Russian assertion of a spontaneous uprising by pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine was belied by the use on Friday of surface-to-air missiles that brought down two of Ukraine's military helicopters.

"It is obvious to the world that these Russian-backed groups are not peaceful protesters," Obama said. "They are heavily armed militants."

UPDATE: 5/2/14 3:55 PM ET

A reminder

Amid the chaos, it's hard to remember that Ukraine is currently under an interim government and set to hold elections of the presidential variety on May 25.

The eastern parts of Ukraine currently under pro-Russian separatist control plan to hold a referendum on May 11, similar to the one Crimea held before it seceded from Ukraine and was annexed by Russia.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 3:40 PM ET

Ukraine's authorities lower death toll

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has adjusted its death toll from the blaze at the trade union building down to 31, from an earlier 38. Four others were killed during clashes on the street.

According to Kyiv Post, around 50 people needed medical attention, 10 of them police officers.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 3:30 PM ET

Ukrainian military ran into angry locals in the east

Agence France-Presse captured this footage of Ukrainian military blocked by unarmed civilians in eastern Ukraine:

 

 

This second clip appears to show the same, or a similar, scene at a later point. Shots are fired and one resident is dragged off the road, while the locals chant at the soldiers:

 

 

UPDATE: 5/2/14 3:10 PM ET

Death toll from Odessa spikes due to smoke inhalation

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said 38 people died in Odessa when the trade union building was set on fire. Eight of them died jumping from the building while 30 died from inhaling smoke.

Journalist Howard Amos tweeted this photo from the scene earlier:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 3:10 PM ET

Separatists were given automatic and sniper rifles in a church: Witnesses

Kyiv-based Russian language tabloid newspaper Segodnya.ua reported:

The weapons separatists used to shoot at pro-Ukrainian protesters and peaceful residents in Odessa today were distributed in one of the city's churches yesterday evening. Residents conveyed that information to the governor of the Odessa region, Vladimir Nemirovsky, who had arrived to support them at the barricades.

During the morning service, an Orthodox priest handed out automatic and sniper rifles.

Pro-Maidan supporters asked Nemirovsky for weapons to defend the city from the attackers.

Anti-Maidan supporters have seized more and more buildings in the center of the city. Witnesses said anywhere between 2 to 15 people died during Friday's clashes. Many more were injured.

- Translated by Europe Editor Gregory Feifer

UPDATE: 5/2/14 2:45 PM ET

Where the troops are now

The Washington Post published a new map of Russian and Ukrainian troop movements along the border. It's based on information from the Royal United Services Institute and their own analysis.

The Post points out that a military engagement is not inevitable, but the map is still a useful point of reference.

Go to The Post's site for a fully detailed map.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 2:35 AM ET

Police say death toll has risen to four

Reuters — At least four men were killed in running battles between pro-Russian and pro-Kyiv activists inOdessa on Friday, and the trade union building in the center of the southern port city was set on fire, regional police said.

Police said in a statement another man had been killed, bringing the death toll to at least four in some of the worst violence in the largely Russian-speaking Black Sea port since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.

 


 

 


 


UPDATE: 5/2/14 2:00 PM ET

Odessa parlimentarian tells Putin: Forget about Odessa

Reuters is still reporting three dead, although journalist Howard Amos says he has counted more bodies. Here is Reuters' latest on what's happening in Odessa:

At least three people were killed and several wounded when pro-Russian activists attacked supporters of Ukrainian unity marching through Odessa, deepening rifts in the largely Russian-speaking port city.

The opposing sides have clashed before in the Black Sea port, but the battles have never resulted in deaths and some residents said they feared both may now try to seek retribution.

The regional police said three were killed, at least one by a gunshot to the chest, when a march by the pro-Kyiv demonstrators was ambushed. Petrol bombs, paving stones and explosive devices were thrown during the clashes, they said.

Dmytro Spivak, a local parliamentarian, told Ukrainian television that four young supporters of the authorities in Kyiv had been killed.

"It is abundantly clear that the pro-Russian side was very well armed, well organized and that this action was planned long ago," he said, adding the police did little stop the clashes. "I will say one thing to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin; forget about Odessa."

Ukraine's new pro-Western leaders have accused Moscow of supporting pro-Russian groups to try to destabilize a country desperately trying to recover from months of upheaval that ended in the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

The Kremlin denies playing any role in the uprisings in the east and south of Ukraine, saying Russian-speakers there are simply protecting their rights against possible assault by Kyiv's pro-Western leaders.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 1:50 PM ET

Why is Odessa different from Crimea?

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk provides this useful context to the current unrest in Odessa:

At first glance, it might seem unsurprising that pro-Russian passions run through Odessa. A bit like Crimea, the city holds an important place in Russian imperial history, as it was both a major transport hub and a cultural center.

It was also key point within “New Russia,” the tsarist-era geopolitical term that defined much of present-day southern Ukraine — and a name Russian President Vladimir Putin worryingly resurrected recently in reference to the post-revolutionary crisis in Ukraine.

The picturesque, seaside city was even home to one of the famous uprisings — which began on the battleship “Potemkin,” in 1905 — that helped pave the way for the Bolshevik Revolution years later.

And more recently, it’d been a bastion of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which still holds a dominating majority in the regional council.

But don’t jump to conclusions just yet.

Here are a few figures from a recent poll by the Kyiv International Institute for Sociology that might help dispel some notions about just how pro-Russian — or pro-separatist, in this case — the Odessa Region really is:

Only around 5.5 percent of locals support the armed seizure of administrative buildings.

Meanwhile, 61 percent believe Russia is illegally interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, and another 79 percent are against an invasion by Ukraine’s former master.

Finally, less than 6 percent believe Ukraine should be part of Russia.

It’s also telling that the city has largely escaped the widespread chaos or violence between protest factions in recent weeks that’s befallen eastern Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv and Donetsk.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 1:40 PM ET

Odessa buildings aflame

UPDATE: 5/2/14 1:10 PM ET

Pro-Ukrainian protesters storm Odessa City Hall

UPDATE: 5/2/14 1:00 PM ET

3 people killed and 15 wounded in Odessa clashes

At least three people were killed and several wounded when pro-Russian activists attacked supporters of Ukrainian unity marching through Odessa, deepening rifts in the largely Russian-speaking port city.

The opposing sides have clashed before in the Black Sea port, but the battles have never resulted in deaths and some residents said they feared both may now try to seek retribution.

The regional police said three were killed, at least one by a gunshot to the chest, when a march by the pro-Kyiv demonstrators was ambushed. Petrol bombs, paving stones and explosive devices were thrown during the clashes, they said.

Dmytro Spivak, a local parliamentarian, told Ukrainian television that four young supporters of the authorities in Kyiv had been killed.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 12:41 PM ET

Pro-Russian camp in Odessa appears to be in flames

UPDATE: 5/2/14 12:40 PM ET

Obama and Merkel reiterate readiness to impose further costs on Russia

More details from President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's joint news conference today via the Guardian:

Obama said, "We are united in our determination to impose costs on Russia for its actions."

"Russia's actions in Ukraine pose a direct challenge that brought the US and Europe together in the first place," he added. "That is a United Europe."

Merkel appeared to take a slightly softer stance than Obama, saying there was still time for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Obama said the next step would be sectoral sanctions, targeting specific parts of the Russian economy. Merkel said Germany was serious about the principles and "we will move to the third stage" of sanctions.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 12:30 PM ET

Obama calls on Russia to wield its influence

Reuters — US President Barack Obama on Friday called on Russia to influence pro-Russian military groups in Ukraine to stand down and said it was disgraceful that the militias were holding international observers.

Obama, speaking at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said they were united in their desire to impose costs on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

He said Russia must work to secure the immediate release of the observers.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 12:25 PM ET

UNSC meets at Russia's behest

Reuters reported earlier that Russia called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the Ukrainian army's operation in Slovyansk.

The UNSC meeting is now underway. It's streaming live here.

Vitaly Churkin is Russia's envoy to the UN. The Guardian's Alec Luhn is live-tweeting:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 12:20 PM ET

Clean up may take a while in Odessa

Journalist Howard Amos tweeting the destruction on the streets:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 12:00 PM ET

Slightly kinder words for Odessa's police

Blogger Nikolai Holmov tweeted:

And journalist Howard Amos:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 11:50 AM ET

Two Ukrainian soldiers killed in Slovyansk operation

Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov said two Ukrainian soldiers died and seven were wounded in the military operation in Slovyansk on Friday. The Guardian reported:

He also said about "many" killed on the other side. "Criminals received big losses during the operation: many were killed, wounded and arrested," he said without giving details.

Turchynov also promised an amnesty to all those armed separatists, who did not commit grave crimes and agreed to surrender. He also called on Moscow to "stop its hysterics, threats and intimidation over events taking place in Ukraine."

UPDATE: 5/2/14 11:40 AM ET

The riot police, standing by

Odessa might be seeing the same inaction from security forces other parts of Ukraine have seen in the past few weeks.

Acting President Oleksander Turchynov said yesterday, "The majority of law enforcers in the east are incapable of performing their duties." Odessa, however, is in the south, on the Black Sea.

Just yesterday, riot police guarding the prosecutor's office in Donetsk were overwhelmed by a crowd of pro-Russians armed with bats.

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk was in Donetsk recently and looked at how a passive police force is exacerbating the crisis in Ukraine.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 11:20 AM ET

Elsewhere in Ukraine, soldiers waiting...

According to Agence France-Presse's captions, these Ukrainian soldiers were waiting as pro-Russian supporters blocked the road between the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk on Friday.

 

UPDATE: 5/2/14 10:55 AM ET

At least one reported killed in Odessa

Reuters — One man was shot dead in clashes between pro-Russian protesters and supporters of Ukrainian unity in the largely Russian-speaking port city of Odessa, local police said on Friday.

Police said in a statement protesters had thrown petrol bombs, paving stones and "explosive devices" during the clashes in the southern city, and that the man had been shot in the chest, puncturing his left lung.

He died before the ambulance reached him.

The scene right now, via journalist Howard Amos:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 10:50 AM ET

Russian saboteurs tried to cross Ukraine's border, says president

Reuters — Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchynov, said on Friday Ukrainian border troops had rebuffed attempts by Russian "armed saboteurs" to cross into Ukraine overnight.

Turchynov also said in a statement the operation to retake the eastern town of Slovyansk had not progressed as quickly as he had hoped, complicated by pro-Russian rebels hiding "behind the citizens" and "firing from apartment blocks."

"We demand that the terrorists, saboteurs, all those who took up arms against our country, to lay down their arms, surrender, release hostages and administrative buildings," he said.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 10:35 AM ET

Odessa as it unfolded, via social media

Journalist Howard Amos and blogger Nikolai Holmov documented the clashes in Odessa minute by minute.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 10:20 AM ET

Soccer team fans planned a march with pro-Ukraine protesters

A report from Russian news site Radio Ekho Moskvy (translated by Europe Editor Gregory Feifer) on the Odessa clashes:

Several thousand pro-Ukraine supporters and Chornomorets soccer team fans gathered in central Odessa for a march on Friday when they were confronted by several hundred anti-Maidan activists with clubs and shields, Interfax-Ukraine reported. During the clash that followed, radicals in black balaclavas threw projectiles at the pro-Ukraine demonstrators, according to Itar-Tass. RIA Novosti reported shots being fired.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 9:50 AM ET

Clashes between pro-Ukrainians and pro-Russians in Odessa

It seems the next hot spot in Ukraine is Odessa:

The following videos were posted by journalists but their authenticity has not been confirmed:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 9:20 AM ET

Kyiv denies blame

Reuters — Ukraine categorically denies Russian attempts to blame Kyiv for breaking a deal agreed in Geneva last month, saying on Friday that Moscow had failed to take any steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine's east.

"Instead Russia is supporting in many ways terrorist groups that are operating in the eastern regions of Ukraine, who are putting civilians in danger, seizing hostages and creating an atmosphere of terror and violence," the Foreign Ministry said.

In a statement, the ministry also added that Ukraine was ready to negotiate with a Russian envoy to try to find a way out of the crisis, but that Kyiv had not been informed of his arrival in eastern Ukraine.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 7:50 AM ET

Four men detained

UPDATE: 5/2/14 7:20 AM ET

Helicopters near Slovyansk

UPDATE: 5/2/14 7:10 AM ET

Pro-Russian separatists leave TV station, seize railways

Reuters — Pro-Russian separatists have seized the control center for Donetsk railways in eastern Ukraine, all but stopping trains from running, a spokesman for the Donetsk railway said on Friday.

The rebels had seized the command post near Yasynuvata, just north of Donetsk, and had cut all electricity, he said. "Movement has all but stopped."

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry said Pro-Russian separatists left the prosecutor's office and television center in Ukraine's eastern city of Luhansk on Friday.

"The (prosecutor's) office was freed today thanks to negotiations between the local authorities and people who had seized the building," the ministry said in a statement. It said in another report that separatists had also left the television center.

Both were seized on earlier in the week.

This was the scene:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 6:50 AM ET

Journalists detained

Reports of journalists detained by pro-Russians filtered in and out:

UPDATE: 5/2/14 6:40 AM ET

Reaction from Russia

Reuters —President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said the Kremlin was "extremely worried" that it had not heard from an envoy Putin had sent to the eastern city to help free foreign hostages. He said the "punitive operation" mounted by Ukrainian forces had destroyed a peace plan agreed with Western powers two weeks ago.

Putin's spokesman heaped blame on the Ukrainian government, which took power two months ago after pro-Western protests forced the Kremlin-backed elected president to flee to Russia.

Noting that Putin had warned before that any "punitive operation" would be a "criminal act," Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that this was what had now happened at Slovyansk, where separatists seeking independence or annexation by Moscow are holding seven foreign European military observers.

Saying Putin had sent an envoy, Vladimir Lukin, to southeast Ukraine to negotiate their release, Peskov said that Lukin had not been heard from since the Ukrainian operation began.

"While Russia is making efforts to de-escalate and settle the conflict, the Kyiv regime has turned to firing on civilian towns with military aircraft and has begun a punitive operation, effectively destroying the last hope of survival for the Geneva accord," he said, referring to a deal on April 17 signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

Under that agreement, separatists were supposed to lay down their arms and vacate the public buildings they have seized in about a dozen towns they have seized across the Russian-speaking east. Since then, however, they have tightened their grip.

UPDATE: 5/2/14 6:20 AM ET

Two helicopters shot down by rebels in Ukraine

Reuters — Pro-Russian rebels shot down two Ukrainian helicopters on Friday, killing two crew, as troops tightened their siege of separatist-held Slovyansk in what Moscow called a "criminal" assault by Kyiv that wrecked hopes of peace.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement that two Mi-24 helicopter gunships were shot down by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles while on patrol overnight around Slovyansk, a city that rebels have turned into a heavily-fortified stronghold. Two airmen were killed and others wounded. The attack helicopter normally has two crew but can carry more.

Other Ukrainian officials and the separatist leader in Slovyansk had said earlier that one airman was taken prisoner.

A third helicopter, an Mi-8 transport aircraft, was also hit and a serviceman wounded, the Defense Ministry said. The SBU security service said this helicopter was carrying medics.

Eight hours after Reuters journalists in Slovyansk heard shooting break out and saw one helicopter opening fire, the city of 130,000 was quiet, with shops shut and armed separatists in control of the streets while Ukrainian forces in armored vehicles had taken up positions on the outskirts of town.

Ukrainian officials said troops overran rebel checkpoints around the city in an operation launched before dawn and it was now "tightly encircled." They pointed to the heavy fire that hit the helicopters as proof of the presence of Russian forces, despite repeated denials from Moscow that it has troops on the ground or is controlling the uprising.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 4:40 PM ET

Signing off

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UPDATE: 5/1/14 3:30 PM ET

Riot police huddled in a tortoise formation

"This is the last official building, the last government office that was still showing any loyalty to Kyiv," said ITV News' Europe editor James Mates from outside the prosecutor's office that was stormed in Donetsk on Thursday. "It is paying the price for that."

Their report is worth watching for footage from the scene as protesters overwhelmed the riot police.

This was the state of the riot police guarding the building:

UPDATE: 5/1/14 1:30 PM ET

Ukraine reinstates the draft

Ukraine has reinstated military conscription, according to a statement from the office of acting President Oleksander Turchynov.

The statement, released on Thursday, said conscription was being introduced "given the deteriorating situation in the east and the south... the rising force of armed pro-Russian units and the taking of public administration buildings... which threaten territorial integrity," the BBC reported.

Military service was compulsory in Ukraine until late 2013, when a law introduced by now ousted President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped it.

BBC's correspondents said reservists could boost Ukraine's 130,000 armed forces to around 1 million.

UPDATE: 5/1/14 1:00 PM ET

The lonely Ukrainians

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk pointed out this interesting piece of news from Moscow.

May Day was a bigger and better affair in Russia this year, with tens of thousands gathering for rallies in Moscow and marching through the iconic Red Square.

A motley collection of Russians, both young and old, sang old labor songs and waved balloons, according to The Washington Post.

But this happened after the large rallies had dispersed:

"Seven protesters singing the Ukrainian national anthem and carrying a Ukrainian flag marched down empty, upscale Tverskaya Boulevard. More than a dozen police officers charged at them, throwing two men and one woman into a nearby police van and ripping up the Ukrainian flag. The woman shouted from the van that the police were being violent – but then the door slammed and her voice could no longer be heard."

Here is a video of their short-lived protest:

Such an overt display of dissent appears to be unusual for Russia's Ukrainian minority.

Just last week, Al Jazeera reported that many members of the Ukrainian community fear the consequences of speaking out in defense of their homeland.

"I don't really talk about Ukraine anymore — not because I don't have anything to say, but because the topic is just too hot," journalist Roman Romanenko told Al Jazeera.

The lives of Russians and Ukrainians seem delicately interwoven, as Ben C. Solomon found when he interviewed Ukrainian soldiers at an air base in the then Ukrainian city of Sevastopol. Since then, Crimea has been annexed by Russia.

UPDATE: 5/1/14 12:15 PM ET

Riot police in Donetsk were 'humiliated'

ITV's Europe editor James Mates and The Washington Post's Simon Denyer were at the scene of the storming today. Their Twitter feeds offer some more detail of the events that transpired at the prosecutor's office in Donetsk [h/t Interpreter Mag]:

UPDATE: 5/1/14 10:00 AM ET

Some stunning images from the storming of the prosecutor's office in Donetsk

UPDATE: 5/1/14 10:00 AM ET

Losing the east may mean a re-design of the IMF's bailout that was approved just yesterday

Reuters — Ukraine's loss of its territory in the east would force the International Monetary Fund to re-design its $17 billion bailout of the country, and would likely require additional financing, the Fund warned on Thursday.

The IMF also said a deterioration in relations between Ukraine and Russia, a key export market for Kyiv, could further hurt Ukraine's economy and also force an adjustment to its bailout, approved by the IMF board on Wednesday.

"Should the central government lose effective control over the East, the program will need to be re-designed," the IMF said in a staff report on Ukraine's aid program that was released on Thursday.

UPDATE: 5/1/14 11:20 AM ET

Putin to Ukraine's military: Quit while you're ahead... er, behind

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday. He gave her a message for Ukraine's military: Pull out of Ukraine's southeastern regions.

"Putin emphasized that it was imperative today to withdraw all military units from the southeastern regions, stop the violence and immediately launch a broad national dialogue as part of the constitutional reform process involving all regions and political forces," according to Russian news agency Interfax.

Merkel's spokesman said the focus of the call was the German leader asking Putin to help free seven captured observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. 

Putin's call for a military pullout comes a day after Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov essentially said the security services were "helpless" in maintaining order in the region.

The security forces in the southeast were plagued with "inactivity, helplessness and even criminal betrayal," Turchynov said, according to The New York Times. "It is hard to accept but it’s the truth. The majority of law enforcers in the east are incapable of performing their duties."

UPDATE: 5/1/14 11:00 AM ET

Protesters accuse prosecutor's office of charging people with fake crimes

Reuters — Pro-Russian protesters stormed the prosecutor's office in the separatist-held city of Donetsk on Thursday, lobbing stones and smashing windows after accusing the office of working for the Western-backed government in Kyiv.

Donetsk, a city of about 1 million people in Ukraine's industrial east, is at the center of an armed uprising across the steel and coal belt by mainly Russian-speakers threatening to secede from Ukraine.

The violence, in a city already largely under the control of separatists, underscored the shifting security situation and suspicions in the region.

"The prosecutor's office was issuing criminal orders from Kyiv against its own people, charging them with separatism and other fake crimes," said one protester, a 43-year-old man from Donetsk who gave his name as Igor.

Interfax-Ukraine news agency said the protesters had allowed security officers inside the building to leave, but that some were wounded. A Reuters reporter saw blood on the ground.

Pro-Russian separatists in the city have declared a "People's Republic of Donetsk" and say they will hold a referendum on secession on May 11.

Police in the east have largely given up without a fight when confronted with protesters armed with clubs and often well-organized gunmen in masks and military fatigues. But officers often continue to work, in tacit cooperation with separatist leaders who want to maintain order.

UPDATE: 5/1/14 10:05 AM ET

Pictures from the seizure of the prosecutor's office in Donetsk

Journalist Olaf Koens appears to be at the scene:

UPDATE: 5/01/14 9:40 AM ET

Pro-Russian protesters storm prosecutor's office in Donetsk

Reuters — Pro-Russian protesters stormed the prosecutor's office in the separatist-held city of Donetsk on Thursday, lobbing petrol bombs and stones, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.

The violence broke out when protesters gathered outside the office accusing the prosecutors of working for the pro-Western government in Kyiv, which Donetsk is threatening to break from in a referendum on May 11.

Protesters entered the building, and television pictures showed police filing out.

UPDATE: 5/01/14 8:45 AM ET

Ukraine detains Russian military attache for spying

Reuters — Ukraine said on Thursday it had detained Russia's military attache to Kyiv on suspicion of spying and ordered him to leave, as the ex-Soviet republic wrestles with an armed uprising it says is orchestrated by Moscow.

In a statement, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said the unnamed diplomat was detained on Wednesday while undertaking "intelligence activities."

Ukraine accuses Russia of orchestrating the fall of towns and cities across its industrial east to pro-Russian separatists over the past month, spearheaded by well-organized gunmen in masks and military fatigues.

Russia denies having any part in the rebellion, but has warned it reserves the right to intervene to protect ethnic Russians — following its annexation of Crimea in late March — and has massed tens of thousands of troops on its western frontier with Ukraine.

"The military-naval attache of the embassy of the Russian Federation in Ukraine is declared persona non grata in connection with his actions, which are not in accordance with his diplomatic status," the ministry said. The diplomat was ordered to leave, though the statement mentioned no deadline.

There was no immediate response from Moscow, which like Kyiv is observing the May 1 holiday. Ukraine's pro-Western leaders conceded on Wednesday they were "helpless" to counter the fall of government buildings and police stations to the separatists in the Donbass coal and steel belt of eastern Ukraine, source of around a third of the country's industrial output.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 5:30 PM ET

Signing off

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UPDATE: 4/30/14 5:25 PM ET

More on the IMF loan

The International Monetary Fund's board signed off on a $17 billion two-year aid program for Ukraine on Wednesday to help the ex-Soviet republic recover after months of turmoil.

The aid will unlock further credits from other donors of about $15 billion, intended to help Ukraine stabilize its economy amid its worst civil turmoil since independence in 1991.

The decision from the IMF's 24-member board, which includes representatives from Russia and the United States, clears the way for an immediate disbursement of $3.2 billion to Ukraine's cash-strapped government, allowing it to meet looming obligations and avoid a potential debt default. Of that first tranche, $2 billion will be targeted at supporting the budget.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 5:15 PM ET

IMF loan approved

UPDATE: 4/30/14 4:25 PM ET

So, everyone agrees: There is no military solution

Reuters — Russia's President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed in a phone call on Wednesday that the Ukrainian crisis can only be solved through "peaceful means," the Kremlin said in a statement.

"The Russian President noted, in particular, the fundamental importance of the soonest and unconditional implementation by the Kyiv authorities of the provisions of the Geneva statement of April 17 to de-escalate tensions in the country," it added.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out military intervention in the dispute with Russia over Ukraine and said she was counting on a diplomatic resolution to Europe's worst crisis since the Cold War ended.

In a speech to about 1,200 people in Frankfurt, Germany's financial capital, ahead of the European parliamentary elections next month, Merkel said the lessons of two world wars in the last century could not be forgotten.

"Would we have learned anything 100 years after the start of World War I and 75 years after the start of World War II if we resorted to the same methods? No," said Merkel, whose country has a deeply pacifist streak after those wars.

"I'll continue working towards a good partnership with Russia," said Merkel.

"We will not resolve our conflicts in Europe with military means. Military solutions can be excluded," she added to loud applause.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 3:25 PM ET

Putin's stride

Reuters — Vladimir Putin has "walked the walk" since the West imposed new sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, but not in the way Barack Obama intended.

Announcing sanctions against Russian companies and individuals this week, the US president used the phrase in urging the Kremlin leader to do more than just "talk the talk" when it comes to finding a diplomatic solution to the standoff.

In a move that seemed designed to mock Obama's choice of words, state television lingered on Putin striding with knowing confidence across a vast hall to deliver his verdict on the sanctions to reporters during a visit to neighboring Belarus.

Completely unruffled, Putin denied US charges that Russian troops are in Ukraine, blamed the crisis on the West and ratcheted up the war of words by warning that Moscow could bar some Western companies from involvement in Russia's economy.

"It was handing out those pies on the Maidan that paved the way to the crisis," he said, referring to a visit in which US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland offered food to anti-government protesters on Kyiv's main square in December.

There is no overt sign that the asset freezes and travel bans imposed by the United States and European Union, reinforced by moves by Japan and Canada, are having any effect on Putin.

And Western Kremlin watchers remain deeply uneasy about forecasting just what the president might do next in Ukraine.

He may think he has little reason to be the one to "blink" first; although the annexation of the Crimea peninsula and the massing of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine have left East-West relations more tense than at any time since the Cold War, Putin's popularity has soared in Russia.

A poll on Wednesday showed 82 percent of Russians support the former KGB spy's actions, his highest rating since 2010.

The sanctions were considered so mild in Russia that share prices rose in Moscow when they were announced. Moscow also regards the European Union and the United States as divided over how to handle the crisis, largely because the EU is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas and has more trade with Moscow.

Some Russians say Putin's position may even be hardening.

"The sanctions have an impact on Putin but not necessarily the impact intended. The West wants to deter him, make him back down, split him from his entourage, set the 'oligarchs' against him, make the Russian people mistrust and topple him," said Dmitry Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center think-tank.

"In my view it will not work. Sanctions could contribute to Russia being more of an adversary to the US - poorer, less connected to the world and less predictable."

UPDATE: 4/30/14 2:55 PM ET

What is Lavrov doing in Latin America?

From Senior Correspondent Simeon Tegel in Lima, Peru:

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on tour in … Latin America.

Russia has growing trade ties with the region, currently worth some $13 billion a year. Yet the timing of Lavrov’s trip is a mystery, with Ukraine still at boiling point and with the EU and US launching a second round of sanctions against Moscow on Monday.

The purpose of the trip was to strengthen bilateral cooperation and trade, according to the official Voice of Russia radio, yet that may bring up more questions than it answers.

One thing Lavrov is unlikely to do, as he visits Cuba, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Nicaragua this week, is drum up support for Russia’s stance over Ukraine.

Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua might all be Russian allies, but none is in a position to offer anything more than verbal backing for Moscow.

"Nicaragua supports the initiative of the Russian Federation to find peaceful solutions in [...] Syria, Ukraine, not the outcome of scorched earth and destruction," Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Tuesday.

Nicaragua is one of the tiniest and poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, whose weight on the world stage equals, with respect, that of a feather. If anything, Lavrov visiting Managua now only serves to underline Russia’s isolation on the international stage.

Meanwhile, the regimes in Cuba and particularly protest-wracked Venezuela each probably have their hands full dealing with internal problems.

All three have also been noticeable for their silence in response to Putin’s recent attempts to establish Russian military bases in Latin America. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua even said that it would be against his country’s constitution to allow foreign military bases in Venezuela.

The center-left governments of Peru and Chile are both democratic and respectful of the United Nations charter. You can probably bet the house on it, that neither will be publicly backing Moscow over Ukraine.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 1:15 PM ET

'There were no orders from Kyiv'

Reuters — The police of Luhansk had already stacked sandbags to the ceiling of their HQ in anticipation of trouble, during a month in which government buildings and police stations had tumbled to armed separatists across Ukraine's industrial east.

But nothing had prepared them for the assault they faced on Tuesday night by gunmen armed with automatic rifles, petrol bombs and stun grenades.

The city's police chief, Vladimir Ruslavsky, had little choice but to cede command, showing the assailants the letter of resignation they demanded, signed and faxed to the Interior Ministry in Kyiv, said Tatyana Pogukai, a spokeswoman for the local police.

The city government, prosecutor's office and television center had already fallen, in a major advance for pro-Russian separatists in their three-week-old uprising against the pro-Western government in Kyiv.

"I was here all night," Pogukai told Reuters on Wednesday. "I slept on the floor."

"The station constantly sent messages that we were being stormed, that they were throwing grenades, but there was no answer," she said of the national police leadership in Kyiv.

"There are no orders from Kyiv. None at all. There's a feeling that for Kyiv, Luhansk and the Luhansk police station simply don't exist."

The account of Tuesday's takeover in Ukraine's easternmost provincial capital, an hour's drive from the Russian border, reinforces the sense of a region slipping decisively from the grasp of a central government cobbled together barely two months ago amid the worst civil turmoil in Ukraine since independence in 1991.

Where it leads will likely be known after May 11, when the region's self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk" holds a referendum on secession, echoing events in Crimea before its annexation by Russia in late March.

Ruslavsky's officers never fired back, copying their comrades across this steel and coal belt who have sooner or later given up in the face of angry crowds armed with clubs and chains, often backed by well-organized gunmen in masks and military fatigues.

Some officers left, handing in their weapons, while others stayed and could be seen carrying out their duties on Wednesday in an uneasy cohabitation with the separatists. The ground floor windows of the headquarters were smashed and there were dents in the main gate.

Approached by a reporter, the police directed questions to a man in civilian clothing who was talking and laughing with officers on the street. He gave his name as Denis, and was unarmed but held a two-way radio.

"Criminals are still criminals, despite the revolution," he said, explaining why the separatists would allow police to keep working. "The police have the data, the professional skills, and if you drive them off you'll have chaos."

Another separatist, who declined to be identified, said the men who carried out Tuesday's operation were loyal to Valery Bolotov, a retired military officer now one of the leaders of the separatist "Army of the Southeast."

Bolotov was named on a list of people slapped with sanctions by the European Union on Tuesday, in an as yet fruitless attempt by Western countries to slow the uprising.

The surrender and in some cases defection of the police represents a formidable blow to Kyiv, which plans an election for president on May 25 but now has little control in parts of the east.

This week's sudden capture of Luhansk, along with neighboring Donetsk province which they have mostly held for weeks, gives separatists effective sway over the entire Donbass, the prized coal region where giant steel smelters and heavy plants produce around a third of Ukraine's industrial output.

Many native Russian speakers in the east feel aggrieved at events over the past five months in Kiev, where protests toppled Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in a tug-of-war between the West and Russia over the strategic direction of the former Soviet republic.

Ukraine's armed forces have held off any large-scale operation to wrest back control, both because of a lack of training and equipment and out of fear of triggering an invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the border.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 11:25 AM ET

An updated map of the unrest in Ukraine

UPDATE: 4/30/14 11:05 AM ET

Ukraine's security forces are 'helpless,' says president

Recent reports from eastern Ukraine indicate a police force largely standing on the sidelines, unable or unwilling to intervene when pro-Russian separatists clash with pro-Ukrainian protesters.

Ukraine's acting president told regional leaders that security forces in eastern Ukraine were "helpless" in their task of protecting civilians.

"I would like to say frankly that at the moment the security structures are unable to swiftly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions back under control," Oleksander Turchynov said, according to the BBC.

"More than that, some of these units either aid or co-operate with terrorist groups," he added.

What's behind the police force's inefficiency? Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports from Donetsk:

Ivan Varchenko, a Kharkiv councilman from the pro-government Fatherland Party, says the new, revolutionary conditions in Ukraine have caught a largely corrupt and underprepared police force by surprise.

He partly blames ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, whose support base was in the Donetsk Region.

“In reality, much of the police force we have in Ukraine today was oriented toward several specific activities: to defend the Yanukovych ‘family’ and protect oligarchs’ businesses,” Varchenko, a member of the council’s human rights committee, said in a recent interview.

“They understood that they were perfectly suited to that — to pressure local businessmen into paying bribes, for instance,” he added. “But now when they need to be fighting bandits, they’re showing their inability.”

Read more about how eastern Ukraine's passive police force is fueling the crisis.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 10:50 AM ET

Ukraine's military is on high alert

Reuters — Ukraine's armed forces are on full military alert in case of a Russian invasion, the country's acting president said on Wednesday, reiterating concern over Russian troops massed on the border.

"I once again return to the real danger of the Russian Federation beginning a land war against Ukraine,"Oleksander Turchynov told a meeting of regional governors in Kyiv, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

"Our armed forces have been put on full military readiness," he said.

Russia says it has no plan to invade eastern Ukraine following its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March, but Turchynov's remark made clear the pro-Western government in Kiev saw no reason to reduce the readiness of its armed forces.

Kyiv, however, accuses Moscow of orchestrating an armed uprising in the industrial east by Russian-speaking separatists who have seized government buildings in a strong of towns and cities, largely unopposed by police.

Ukrainian soldiers stand near a tank at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on April 29, 2014.

UPDATE: 4/30/14 10:15 AM ET

Masked gunmen take another town in the Donbass region

Reuters — Masked gunmen in military fatigues took control of a government building in another Ukrainian town on Wednesday, as pro-Russian separatists tightened their grip on a swathe of the country's industrial east largely unopposed by police.

Local media reports said the gunmen turned up at first light, and were later seen by a Reuters photographer to be controlling entry to the building in the town of almost 300,000 people. They refused to be photographed.

The heavily armed men wore the same military uniforms without insignia as other so-called "green men" who have joined pro-Russian protesters with clubs and chains in seizing control of a string of towns across Ukraine's Donbass coal and steel belt abutting the border with Russia.

A police official in nearby Donetsk, the provincial capital where separatists have declared a "People's Republic of Donetsk," said separatists were also in control of the Horlivka police division, having seized the regional police HQ earlier in April.

Wednesday's takeover followed the fall of government buildings on Tuesday further east in Luhansk, capital of Ukraine's easternmost province, driving home just how far control over the densely populated region has slipped from the pro-Western central government in Kyiv.

"They've taken them. The government administration and police," the police official said of Horlivka.

The town sits just north of Donetsk, where mainly Russian-speaking separatists have called a referendum on secession for May 11.

Many hope to follow Crimea's break from Ukraine in late March and subsequent annexation by Russia, following the overthrow of Ukraine's then Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in late February in a tug-of-war between the West and Russia over the strategic direction of the former Soviet republic.

The Donbass region is home to giant steel smelters and heavy plants that produce around a third of Ukraine's industrial output.

An armed uprising began there in early April, with Kyiv almost powerless to respond for fear of provoking an invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the border.

Oleksander Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president until an election on May 25, reiterated on Wednesday that police were incapable of reasserting control in the region.

"Our main task is to prevent the terrorist threat from spreading to other regions of Ukraine," he told a meeting of regional governors in Kyiv.

"The Russian leadership is doing everything to prevent the election. But the election will take place on May 25," he said.

Authorities in Kyiv said security forces had "liquidated" three separatist checkpoints near the eastern town of Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold, and the gunmen manning them had disappeared. The information could not be independently confirmed.

Previous live blog

Catch up on previous events here.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140430/masked-gunmen-luhansk-horlivka-eastern-ukraine-live-blog