The rebellion against the new pro-Western leaders in Kiev is spreading across Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, with government offices seized on Saturday in two more cities in Donetsk region.
Pro-Russian protesters on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Slaviansk, an industrial city of 137,000 residents, just over 100 km from Donetsk, a focal point of anti-Kiev protests.
Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov vowed to give a “very harsh” response to the seizure, saying he had ordered Donetsk riot police to clear the building.
However, Donetsk police refused to obey the orders and hours later hundreds of protesters seized the municipal government building and the Security Service SBU office in Slaviansk.
The protesters replaced the Ukrainian blue and yellow flag on the city hall with the Russian red, white and blue flag.
The Mayor of Slaviansk Nelya Shtepa said the takeover was peaceful and voiced solidarity with the protesters.
“All residents of Slaviansk have taken to the streets today to support the activists,” Ms Shtepa was quoted as saying by the Slavgorod city website. “They are demanding a referendum [on autonomy] and we all support this demand.”
Later on Saturday protesters seized police headquarters in Krasny Liman, a town of about 30,000 people 130 km from Donetsk.
Pro-Russian protesters have been occupying government buildings in Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland since Sunday.
Authorities in Kiev threatened to use force to dislonge the protesters, but security forces reportedly refused to storm the seized buildings.
Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Friday visited Donetsk to promise more powers to the regions, but reiterated Kiev’s refusal to transform Ukraine from a unitary state into a federation, which is the key demand of the protesters.
Moscow has warned Kiev not to use force against the pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Ukrainian counterpart Andrii Deshchytsia that Kiev’s threats to storm the occupied buildings in Donetsk and Lugansk were “unacceptable” and urged the Ukrainian authorities to resolve the standoff “peacefully, through dialogue and taking full heed of the legitimate demands of Ukraine’s south and southeast, including direct involvement of these regions in the constitutional reform,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website.
Mr Lavrov rejected the Ukrainian Minister’s claim that Russian agents were engaged in “provocative activities” in eastern Ukraine and some of them had been detained.
“There are no grounds whatsoever for such allegations,” the Russian Foreign Minister said, adding that Washington had leveled similar charges but failed to produce any proof.