A day after clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian officials turned deadly in the eastern cities of Sloviansk, protesters ignored government threats of an “anti-terrorist” military crackdown and instead continued to expand their grip on the region by taking over yet more official buildings.
In Horlivk, in the Donetsk region, protesters seized the local police headquarters and the city council’s building on Monday.
Police officers were reportedly still in the building when it was seized, and protesters built a human corridor to let them out.
In the video below, an armed man can be seen addressing the crowd of demonstrators from the top of the occupied building.
Armed, Pro-Russian protesters took over the police headquarters in Horlivk on Monday.
Kiev’s response to the escalating unrest seemed contradictory — and signaling of increasing desperation by central authorities whose control of the situation appears to diminish by the day.
Protests by pro-Russian demonstrators had been taking place regularly in eastern Ukraine, but escalated in the last days, as separatists took over several official buildings there.
Then, over the weekend, the confrontations with Ukrainian forces turned deadly.
At first, Ukraine’s interim president Oleksander Turchinov signaled a possible opening to protesters' demands by suggesting that he would consider a national referendum to give greater autonomy to Ukraine’s regions. In recent weeks, protesters who seized official buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv had been demanding a Crimea-inspired referendum, with some calling for greater independence and others for outright secession.
But Turchinov also said on Monday that authorities would carry on with a military offensive against the separatist protesters, whom Ukrainian authorities have called “terrorists.”
Still, Ukrainian forces have had a difficult time operating in the east of the country, where pro-Russian protesters enjoy widespread popular support.
"On some occasions we have lost the information war and there have been blockades of our units,” Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval said. “People don't understand why they are coming."
Protesters set up makeshift barricades and roadblocks in several cities and towns.
The videos below, show barricades in Sloviansk, where Sunday’s clashes turned deadly.
Ukrainian Special Forces and pro-Russian militants engaged in a gun battle in Sloviansk, on Sunday, in which at least one Ukrainian security officer and an "unidentifiable number" of separatists were killed.
Separatist protesters erected barricades across Sloviansk, where clashes with Ukrainian forces turned deadly during the weekend.
The Kiev government had given protesters yet another ultimatum, which expired at 9AM on Monday, but like previous warnings before it, that deadline came and went.
In yet another sign of Kiev authorities’ struggle to keep up with the situation, Turchinov sacked the state security chief that in charge of the promised crackdown on Monday.
But while Kiev seemed to have missed its own deadline once again, reports emerged of a column of two tanks and more than 20 armored personnel carriers packed with Ukrainian paratroops approaching Slaviansk on Monday evening. If confirmed, those reports would signal the first signs of significant Ukrainian military deployment.
The video below shows a Ukrainian tank moving through Rodinskoye, in Donetsk region, on Monday.
Ukrainian forces reportedly moved into eastern Ukraine after the Kiev government announced a crackdown on “terrorists” there.
Meanwhile Ukrainian and Western officials stepped up their suggestions that Russia is behind the unrest in the region — accusations that Moscow officials have vehemently denied.
“These operations bear many similarities to those that were carried out in Crimea in late February and culminated in Russia’s illegal military intervention and purported annexation of Crimea,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said in a statement on Sunday. “These seizures bear the same defining features and tactics across diverse locations, including takeover of government administration buildings and security headquarters, seizure of weapons in the targeted buildings, forced removal of local officials, rapid establishment of roadblocks and barricades, attacks against communications towers, and deployment of well-organized forces.”
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke on the phone on Monday — with Putin dismissing allegations of Russian involvement in Eastern Ukraine and insisting that Ukrainian authorities should not use forces against protesters there.
A pro-Russian armed man stood guard by an occupied building in Slaviansk.
A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said that the Russian president is listening to the concerns of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
“The president is watching the developments in Eastern Ukraine with great concern," Dmitry Peskov said. “Unfortunately, there's a great many such appeals coming from the Eastern Ukrainian regions addressed directly to Putin to intervene in this or that form.”
But many suggest that Putin might be doing a little more than “watching.”
"I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility," British Foreign Minister William Hague said at a meeting with European leaders. The EU announced on Monday that it is further expanding the list of Russian individuals against which it has imposed sanctions.
The video below, which circulated widely on social media, shows a man in green fatigues, who claims to be a Russian lieutenant, addressing Ukrainian police officers at the police headquarters in Horlivka, after it was stormed by pro-Russian protesters.
Ukrainian media reported that the man is from Simferopol and carries a Russian passport, although many also expressed skepticism about his claims.
A man who identified himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army addressed officers in the stormed police station of Horlivka.
But pro-Russian protesters were not the only ones appealing for outside help.
While they reportedly turned to Moscow, Turchinov’s website said that he would welcome UN peacekeepers in Ukraine — a possibility that has not been discussed by the UN and that would unlikely make it through Russia’s veto at the Security Council.
If anything, the suggestion sounded like a rather desperate call for help.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi