Europe

Ukraine crisis: Kiev tightens grip on Donetsk in east

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Media caption Riot police are now guarding the regional government building in Donetsk, James Reynolds reports

On Artema Street in central Donetsk, commuters outnumber protesters. In the morning, the number two bus is full of people heading to work and passengers diligently stamp their tiny paper tickets to avoid getting a fine.

Nataliya Todorova, an academic at Donetsk National Technical University, points out her office as the bus drives along. She believes that the group of pro-Russian protesters who briefly took over the regional government headquarters are marginal figures.

"During 20 years of independence we didn't stop loving Russia but we still feel we are independent," she says.

"There is a whole generation of young people born understanding themselves as citizens of Ukraine."

Outside the regional government headquarters, a line of riot police guards the main entrance. The line is reinforced by two old trucks that block the front door.

Image caption Nataliya Todorova says many in Donetsk identify with Ukraine

The officers lean on their riot shields. Several of them smoke. They have orders not to let pro-Russian demonstrators back in. So, in the centre of town, a small group of pro-Russians gathers in the afternoon beneath a familiar and comforting symbol - a statue of Lenin.

The protesters' unofficial leader is Pavel Gubarev. He describes himself as the people's governor but his virtual regime in Donetsk lasted less than a week.

On Thursday, as he was preparing for a BBC interview, police officers came to arrest him.

"I will charge you with attempting to resist," an investigator warned a Gubarev supporter.

It was a threat reinforced by a dozen officers in balaclavas, guarding the stairwell.

The offensive against the pro-Russian demonstrators has been led by Donetsk's new governor, Sergei Taruta. He's a billionaire businessman and one of the oligarchs recruited by the new authorities in Kiev to assert authority in the regions.

Image caption Sergei Taruta says Donetsk is under complete control

On Friday, Mr Taruta held his first public meeting to listen to people's concerns. There was frustration in the audience when he declined to answer specific questions.

"Donetsk is under complete control," he told the BBC. "The authorities control the situation. Our best people are on it."

Would he agree to hold a local referendum, as his counterparts in Crimea have done?

"Big mistake," he replied.

The uncertainty across the country has had one noticeable effect - the football season has been put on hold.

The local team, Shakhtar Donetsk, had been due to play a team from Crimea but that match has been postponed.

"I'm very sad," said Valery, a 28-year-old academic.

Donetsk is home to both Russian and Ukrainian speakers. So, if Ukraine plays its neighbour, which side will people cheer for?

"We cheer for Ukraine," answers Valery instantly.

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