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More Brawls Erupt as Kiev's Deadline For Occupiers Passes

Protesters who occupied official buildings in eastern Ukraine were still there, as officials' threats to forcibly evict didn't happen.

by Alice Speri
Apr 11 2014, 10:29pm

Photo via Reuters

The Pro-Russian protesters who took over official buildings in eastern Ukraine were still there on Friday, as officials failed to act on their threats to forcibly evict them if they did not leave on their own.

The occupation, earlier this week, of administrative buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk came as tensions between central authorities and groups hoping to turn eastern Ukraine into the next Crimea quickly escalated.

Things in Ukraine have been heating up again — with brawls in parliament, violent clashes, and official buildings seized by separatists. Read more here.

Ukrainian forces evicted protesters from a regional administration building in Kharkiv, but similar takeovers in other cities went on undisturbed, as protesters set up barricades, collected cash donations from supporters, and generally seemed to prepare for a prolonged standoff.

A pro-Russian protester looked out of an occupied government building in Luhansk. Photo via Reuters.

Neither side seemed to have much appetite for a violent solution to the crisis. But just in case, they both said they were ready for it.

In Luhansk, activists who took over the building held a press conference on Friday saying that their intentions were peaceful. But they also made sure to show that they are also heavily armed, as shown in the video and tweets below.

Pro-Russian separatists held a press conference at an occupied official building in Luhansk on Friday.

VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky was in both Luhansk and Donetsk this week and said it is unlikely that Ukrainian forces will carry through with their promise to storm the buildings and evict protesters.

"Especially in Luhansk, where the protestors are armed," Ostrovsky said. "I think it's unlikely that they will storm them, because it would give the Russians an excuse to invade if people are killed."

Though officials in Moscow have repeatedly denied they have any plans to do so, a Russian invasion — or another one, in any case — is the last thing Kiev authorities want to risk.

But the ultimatum did not do much to boost the general sense that the Ukrainian authorities are in control of the quickly degenerating situation in the east. Quite the contrary.

As the occupations carried on into the week, regional administration buildings seized by protesters began drawing attention as tourist spots. In the photo below, a bride prepares to pose outside the barricaded building in Donetsk.

Photo via Reuters.

If you are on the issuing end of an ultimatum that’s being ignored and don’t really feel like going through with the retaliation you've threatened, ignoring the missed deadline isn't much of a strategy. Which is more or less what Ukrainian acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk did.

In an attempt to cool off the spirits of separatist, pro-Russian protesters who had in recent days called for Crimea-style referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv, Yatsenyuk visited the eastern part of the country and promised greater power and resources to local authorities.

“Our task is to balance power between the center,” he said, reportedly speaking in a mix of Russian and Ukrainian — a language hardly used in this part of the country.

Take a look inside an occupied building with pro-Russia separatists.

Meanwhile in Odessa, in Ukraine's south, celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the city’s liberation from the Nazis took a turn for the worse on Friday, when a brawl broke out between pro-Russian nationalists and Ukrainian loyalists.

The two groups faced off outside a hotel where Oleg Tsarov, a parliament member and presidential hopeful visiting Odessa for the commemoration, was staying.

The video below shows people going at each other with bats, while Ukrainian police forces attempt to break up the fight.

A brawl between pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalists broke out in Odessa on Friday.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi