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In Eastern Ukraine standoff, Kiev appeals for UN peacekeepers while pro-Russian groups appeal to Putin

April 14, 2014 at 6:15 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to Ukraine, where the government in Kiev appealed today for U.N. peacekeepers. That’s after pro-Russian gunmen defied demands to surrender. They now control key buildings in 10 eastern cities.

We begin our coverage with a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News. She’s in Ukraine.

LINDSEY HILSUM: They may look like a disorganized mob, but the authorities in Kiev are sure that the men who attacked the police building in Horlivka today were acting on orders from Moscow.

The crowd that gathered was enthusiastic, but Western journalists were not welcomed. The police inside didn’t get much choice. If they remained loyal to Kiev they would be beaten up. The crowd chanted, “Bring the real government.”

MAN (through interpreter): We demand the people’s head of internal affairs in the region. This is our only demand, for that person to support the people. All the heads of regional administrations have switched to the size of the people and refuse to recognize the government in Kiev.

LINDSEY HILSUM: One of the intruders raised a Russian flag and got rid of the Ukrainian colors.

A few streets away, we saw a group of young men marching around town carrying the Russian flag. People seemed unsettled by the turn of events, but had no faith in the authorities in Kiev.

WOMAN (through interpreter): For sure, they must consider the opinion of the people in the southeast, in Donbass. They put us down. We want them to hear our opinions. We want a referendum and Russian to be an official language.

LINDSEY HILSUM: In the regional capital, a group calling itself the People’s Republic of Donetsk has controlled the municipal building for more than a week now.

The pro-Russian groups occupying government buildings like this across the Donetsk region took absolutely no notice of the Ukrainian president’s deadline this morning. That makes the authorities in Kiev look weak. And if President Putin’s aim is to destabilize Eastern Ukraine, he’s succeeding.

They’re calling for a referendum on Donetsk becoming independent, sort of.

ALEKSANDER MALTSOV: I don’t want listen Kiev. I don’t want to listen Europe or United States. That’s why.

LINDSEY HILSUM: What about Moscow?

ALEKSANDER MALTSOV: Moscow, they are our brothers.

LINDSEY HILSUM: At the entrance to the town of Slavyansk, seized by pro-Russian forces yesterday, they believe they have God on their side.

But if prayer is not enough, behind the barricades of tires, they had Molotov cocktails at the ready. No need. There was no sign of the anti-terror operation to dislodge them promised by the Ukrainian government.

The man in charge insisted that a local camera crew film us. “It would be evidence,” he said, if he took us to court for failing to tell the truth as he saw it.

“MIKHAIL,” (through interpreter): I speak Russian. I live in Russ — no, I — I mean, in Ukraine. Look, the situation is as follows. There are too many provocateurs, and that’s why we duplicate the video of all the reporters who come here to film, so we can see if you change the information, and we will tell the whole world that yours is the worst channel.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Inside Slavyansk, crowds gathered, and the men in charge felt secure enough to hold a press conference.

VYACHESLAV PONOMAREV, Pro-Russian Protest Leader (through interpreter): Dear president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. We ask you to look personally into the current situation and help us to the extent possible. In a sign of unity of the two brotherly nations, we will raise the flag of Donetsk Republic next to the flag of the Russian Federation.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Nothing disorganized about those in control here. They were professional soldiers with all the kit, and they looked uncannily like the men who seized government facilities in Crimea in February, just before a hastily organized referendum and annexation by Russia.