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Battles Rage in Eastern Ukraine as Government in Kiev Collapses

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his resignation on Thursday, while explosions echoed through the eastern city of Luhansk.
Photo by Harriet Salem

Ukraine plunged deeper into crisis on Thursday as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his resignation while war continued to rage in the country’s east.

Yatsenyuk made the announcement during today's parliamentary session after two parties said they were pulling out of the government. “I am announcing my resignation in connect with the collapse of the coalition,” he said.

The bespectacled politician, normally mild mannered, bellowed at the assembled lawmakers who have been reluctant to pass laws to increase funding for the armed forces and confront Ukraine’s energy crisis by liberalizing control of the country’s pipeline system.


"History will not forgive us," he said. "Millions of people made this revolution. We did not take the European choice but the 'heavenly hundred' and thousands of other Ukrainians did," he added in reference to those killed during the three-month long protests on Independence Square.

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The war in the country’s east, which claimed dozens of civilians lives this week alone, also seemed to be at the forefront of the former prime minster’s mind as he tendered his resignation.

“The fact is that the coalition has fallen apart, that laws haven’t been voted on, that soldier’s can’t be paid, that there is no money to buy rifles, that there is no possibility to fill gas storages,” Yatsenyuk said.

Since coming to power on the back of the violent Maidan revolution that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, the government in Kiev has faced crisis after crisis including: near bankruptcy, Russian annexation of the country’s southern peninsula Crimea, and a bitter conflict with armed pro-Russian rebels that have seized large swathes of land in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

Earlier on Thursday, both the nationalist Svoboda party and the movement UDAR — the acronym means ‘punch’ in Ukrainian — led by former boxer Vladimir Klitscho pulled out of the coalition agreement saying that the process of early elections had begun.


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Legislative reform has proved difficult for the government, which has not held parliamentary elections since the revolution, meaning that the ‘old-guard’ still wields sufficient power to block reform.

On Wednesday, brawls broke out between politicians after a decision was approved to send more reservist soldiers to fight near the Russian border. The exchange of blows came two weeks after the government moved to ban the Communist Party aligned with the former President Yanuokvych.

Leader of the group’s Russian counterpart, Gennady Zyuganov, has called the bid “a muzzle” and “evidence of cowardice.”

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, who came to power in March with 54 percent of the vote in a election that was not held in large segments of the rebel-held east of the country, seemed to back the disintegration of the collation stating that it showed that lawmakers “feel the mood of voters.”

“All opinion polls, as well as direct communication with the people, shows that the public wants a full rebooting of the authorities,” he added.

President Poroshenko — an oligarch nicknamed the ‘Chocolate King', due to his substantial investments in the confectionary industry — also said that the withdrawal of the two parties from the coalition should not hinder lawmakers in doing their job.

“[This] should not paralyze the work of Parliament,” he said. “Parliament is obliged to continue to address issues of national importance.”


However, there may be little real immediate change in the government; bar the exit of Yatsenyuk. Back room negotiations and under the table deals are commonplace in Ukrainian politics, and speculation is already rife that the resignation may just be a bid to force parliamentary elections on to the table.

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David Clark, chairman of the think-tank Russia Foundation, told VICE News that Yatsenyuk’s departure is likely an “orchestrated move” that has been in the cards “for at least three weeks.”

“He [Poroshenko] had to do it this way because there are substantial factions in the government that are blocking reform and that do not want elections,” he said.

A convoy of more than 100 Ukrainian military vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, tanks, and multi-launch rocket systems, 10 miles south of Donetsk.

That the resignation of their prime minister may just be a political maneuver will be of scant comfort to terrified civilians in the country’s war torn east, however. Today sirens blared in rebel-held Luhansk causing people to hightail to their basements and other makeshift bomb shelters as loud explosions echoed through the streets.

Tens of thousands have fled Luhansk, Ukraine’s eastern most city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000 people. The city has come under heavy mortar and grad fire after a Kiev-backed anti-terrorism operation entered a new phase aimed at “liberating” the city.

The anti-terrorism operation's net is also tightening on the pro-Russian fighters holding the neighboring oblast of Donetsk, where fighting has flared on between the rebels and Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of the city. Artillery fire was reportedly heard in parts of the area on Thursday.


"We don't know who is firing. Just that they hit our home."

A Human Right's Watch report published on Thursday revealed that indiscriminate use of heavy artillery by both sides has resulted in chaos, confusion, and an increasing number of civilian casualties across the region as battles have intensified.

Indiscriminate use of heavy artillery by both sides has resulted in chaos, confusion and dozens of civilian casualties across the region in the past week as battles have intensified.

Pensioner, Valentina, and her 17 year-old grandson, Alexy, hide in the basement after mortar attacks on their house at 5AM this morning.

As today's political wrangling unfolded in Kiev, 70-year-old Valentina and her 17-year-old grandson Alexy sit in muted silence in their basement, which they have not left since mortar fire ripped into the front wall of their house at around five o’clock in the morning. One explosive came through Alexy's window. "It's a miracle he survived," his mother told VICE News. A local children’s playground and several other houses in the village were also hit by at least eight explosive devices.

"We don't know who is firing," says Valentina softly. "Just that they hit our home."

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem

All Photos by Harriet Salem