Similar scenes repeated themselves across eastern Ukraine on Monday, with hundreds of protesters taking to city squares, storming official buildings, and unilaterally declaring regional independence and calling for annexation to Russia.
Local variations included clashes with opposing rallies of pro-Ukraine protesters, and buildings not only stormed but also set on fire, but details aside, the picture emerging in eastern Ukraine sent a clear and uniform signal to the Kiev government that its troubles did not end in Crimea.
Far from it.
Protests flared up particularly in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, where pro-Russian demonstrators pushed for a repeat of the Crimean scenario in Ukraine’s east. Protesters' threats got serious enough that Kiev authorities are set to discuss a draft resolution on Tuesday, introducing a state of emergency in those regions.
Officials in Ukraine's capital blamed the unrest in the east on Russian interference.
"An anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation … under which foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of the country," Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting in Kiev. "We will not allow this."
Washington officials, too, echoed Kiev's suggestion that Moscow was behind the pro-Russia demonstrations that have been flaring up in Ukraine for weeks now, and that have recently intensified.
"We are concerned about several escalatory moves in Ukraine over the weekend. We see these as a result of increased Russian pressure on Ukraine," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "If Russia moves into eastern Ukraine, either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation. We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine."
For his part, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pushed back with an editorial in The Guardian comparing Western actions against Russia to "junior school punishments."
"Russia is doing all it can to promote early stabilization in Ukraine," he wrote. "We are not imposing anything on anyone."
In the eastern city of Donetsk, where in recent weeks pro-Russian protesters had attacked peaceful “unity” demonstrators, killing three, activists stormed the local regional administration building and set up tire and razor wire barricades.
VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky arrived in the city on Monday evening, when a crowd of about 1,000 people was still standing outside the building, while several hundreds more were on the inside.
“They’re completely taking the building over. There are a lot of self-defense type people wearing masks, with self-made weapons like bats and sticks, and they’re also preparing Molotov cocktails,” he told us. “Basically they’re preparing, in case the Ukrainian authorities decide to try to take it back.”
The videos below show the stormed building, where protesters raised the Russian flag earlier on Monday.
Pro-Russian demonstrators in Donetsk stormed the regional administration building there.
Also on Monday, pro-Russia demonstrators in Donetsk had unilaterally declared the region’s independence from Kiev and pledged to hold a Crimea-style referendum there.
"Seeking to create a popular, legitimate, sovereign state,” a man said, speaking into a loudspeaker to a cheering crowd, “I proclaim the creation of the sovereign state of the people's republic of Donetsk."
The self-appointed “people’s council” of the Donetsk region also issued a statement setting the referendum’s date to “no later” than May 11, and calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to deploy a “peacekeeping” mission to the region.
“The Donetsk Republic is to be created within the administrative borders of the Donetsk region. This decision will come into effect after the referendum,” the statement said. “Without support, itwill be hard for us to stand against the junta in Kiev…We are addressing Russian President Putin because we can only entrust our security to Russia.”
Sergei Taruta, the Kiev-appointed governor or the Donetsk region, said the declaration of independence was “unlawful,” but Ukrainian officials have not yet intervened to seize back the regional administration building.
“In order to avoid the use of force, further dialogue should be conducted on a legal basis only,” Taruta said in a statement.
In addition to Donetsk, coordinated protests also took place in the cities of Luhansk and Kharkiv.
In Kharkiv, in particular, things took a violent turn on Monday night as opposing rallies faced off in Svobody Square, and pro-Russia protestors reportedly set a local administrative building on fire.
“The situation is more tense and fluid in Kharkiv,” Ostrovsky said, “because there are a lot of pro-Ukraine people too, there are both pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia protesters.”
The video below shows the two rivaling groups, who can be heard shouting “Ukraine” and “Russia” and seen waving the two countries’ flags.
The video below shows pro-Russia protesters who stormed and occupied an administrative building in Kharkiv, where they entered negotiations with Ukrainian officers.
On Monday evening, Kharkiv’s pro-Russsia demonstrators followed Donetsk’s cue and declared their own “independent Republic of Kharkiv.” The video below shows the declaration.
Pro-Russia protesters in Kharkiv unilaterally declared the region an independent republic.
Photos shared on social media showed the regional administrative building in Kharkiv apparently on fire on Monday evening.
Meanwhile in Kiev, a very different kind of protest was underway. Or rather, the protest looked pretty similar in style: angry demonstrators, taking over a government building.
The only difference was the protesters’ affiliation — and their complaints.
In the capital those protesting were members of Ukraine’s Right Sector — a Ukrainian ultranationalist and paramilitary alliance who emerged out of the Euromaidan protests but has since picked up a fight with the newly appointed Kiev authorities.
On Monday, protesters surrounded Ukraine’s Supreme Court building and forced out a handful of judges that were inside. They demanded “lustration” legislation, which would bar members of the former Ukrainian government from seeking office in the new administration.
The videos below show the scene outside the court, where protesters chanted “lustration.”
Members of Ukraine’s Right Sector rallied outside the Supreme Court in Kiev.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi