As it happened: East Ukraine crisis

Key Points

  • Ukraine's president pledges a full-scale "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Russian militants
  • Armed men have seized official buildings in a number of cities in the eastern Donetsk region
  • A Ukrainian officer is killed in a gun battle with pro-Russian militants on the outskirts of Sloviansk
  • Russia warned earlier that any use of force in east Ukraine could scupper crisis talks due this week
  • The West accuses Moscow of inciting the trouble. The Kremlin denies the charge.
  • All times BST

    Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the unfolding situation in eastern Ukraine, where the national government has launched an "anti-terrorist operation" in the city of Sloviansk. Ukrainian forces are trying to take back control of the local police HQ, which is being held by pro-Russian activists.


    Yesterday armed men took over police stations and official buildings in Sloviansk and two other eastern towns - Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka. Russia has warned that any use of force in eastern Ukraine could scupper crisis talks due later this week.


    There were reports of gunfire and explosions in Sloviansk this morning and video purportedly showing a Ukrainian helicopter flying low over the city has also surfaced - but so far we've had no confirmed reports of military movement in the city.

    Victor, Moscow, Russia

    emails: People in East Ukraine wish only one thing, a referendum, they have had enough of feeding corrupted authorities.

    Carl Bildt Foreign Minister of Sweden

    tweets: It was a coordinated armed action to seize control over key parts of Eastern Ukraine yesterday. Would not have happened without Russia.


    Journalist David Patrikarakos, who is in Sloviansk, tweets: "Just tried to get into the barricades again. Was told to leave - crowd forming human chain - armed running to and fro." He adds: "Atmosphere electric here - the people are bracing for conflict. It's incredibly hot."

    A gunman stands guard next to a barricade in front of the police HQ in Sloviansk - 13 April 2014 A gunman at the barricade outside the police HQ in Sloviansk this morning

    Ben Judah, a British author and Russia analyst, has been talking to the BBC World Service this morning about the events in eastern Ukraine. He believes the unidentified gunmen that took control of several police stations in the region yesterday are part of "a world class special operations campaign" led by the Russians. "Russia's invasion of Ukraine has in a a sense already begun," Mr Judah added.

    Journalist Graham Phillips, who is in Sloviansk,

    tweets: Highly tense, talk of operatives coming coursing through crowd

    Crowd in Sloviansk, Ukraine

    Some images have begun to emerge from the storming of a police station in Kramatorsk yesterday. Russian news agency Itar Tass has published several pictures of the "people's militia" that forced local police to hand over the building. There is also video of the moment the men arrived. They fired warning shots and barged policemen out of their way in what looked like a fairly professional, co-ordinated offensive.

    Most of the armed men have been eager to avoid photos, but one group in Sloviansk were happy to pose for a picture taken by photographer Maxim Dondyuk.

    Pro-Russian gunmen pose for a photo after they seized the police station in Sloviansk

    BBC Monitoring reports that Serhiy Taruta, the governor of Donetsk, has said that "all legitimate means" will be used to restore order in the region. In a statement, he said the takeover of police stations and government buildings were "acts of terror" and would be dealt with by the security services. "Unidentified armed men have been capturing police departments across the region, pillaging them and arming the local population," he said.

    Journalist Graham Phillips, in Sloviansk,

    tweets: Men w machine guns, self defence running

    Men with machine guns running in Sloviansk
    NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen,

    says: The Russian propaganda against Nato and the West is nothing but smokescreen to cover up its own illegal actions. Dispel the smokescreen, and the truth on the ground is clear: Russia has annexed Crimea at the barrel of a gun, in breach of all its international commitments..

    Russia is now isolated in the world, its international credibility in tatters. This is not in Russia's interest.

    Russia faces a choice: to stop blaming others for its own actions, pull back its troops, step back into line with its international obligations and start rebuilding trust.

    Journalist Graham Phillips, in Sloviansk,

    tweets: Highly on edge here, self defence checkpoint in Sloviansk

    Self defence checkpoint in Sloviansk

    Journalist Dmitry Tymchuk says three Ukrainians have been hurt so far in clashes with the unidentified gunmen in the east of the country. He also claims that some of those who stormed the Sloviansk police headquarters "have been identified as members of the special-purpose unit of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian armed forces."

    09:35: David Stern BBC News, Donetsk

    The question that everybody is asking right now is what will happen next? We've heard about diplomatic moves - Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine are supposed to meet later this week to try to defuse this crisis. But that looks like it's under threat. The ultimate question is what Russia's next move will be. The Kremlin says it has "interests" in eastern Ukraine, where many Russian speakers live. And Russia had already warned Ukraine not to crack down on these militants.

    Olexiy Solohubenko Ukraine expert, BBC News

    tweets: @BBC_ua reports that checkpoints are being put up in Dnipropetrovsk region to ward off [pro-Russian] infiltrators.


    Groups of pro-Russian residents in Sloviansk are reported to be setting up more barricades around the city. Max Seddon, a reporter in the city for Buzzfeed, has tweeted a picture of one group that has blocked the main road into Sloviansk. He says a truck has just turned up with tires for a barricade.

    Gabriel Gatehouse BBC News

    tweets: Russian flag still flying over checkpoint into Sloviansk. Masked men with guns waved us through with no hassle


    Vitaliy Shevchenko of BBC Monitoring reports that a man calling himself Vyacheslav Ponomaryov has declared himself the new mayor of Sloviansk. In a video of the man outside the city's police HQ, he announces that elected mayor Nelya Shtepa has fled. He also says Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers are massing outside the city and that at least one pro-Russian gunman has been injured in clashes.

    Journalist Graham Phillips tweets

    this photo inside the barricades in Sloviansk

    Inside the checkpoint barricades in Sloviansk

    A local Ukrainian news website is reporting that another town in the Donetsk Region was taken over by pro-Russian forces last night. The report says the prosecutor's office, the police department and the town council were captured in Yenakiyeve. It quotes its correspondent in Yenakiyeve as saying that a Russian flag and a flag of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic are flying from the town council building. The report says the gunmen left the prosecutor's office in the early hours after checking that no weapons were stored there.

    David Patrikarakos a journalist in eastern Ukraine

    tweets: Whole city of Sloviansk is just waiting for conflict


    Max Seddon, a reporter in the city for Buzzfeed, tweets: Old ladies & irregulars at Sloviansk say there are no Russian troops. But then two green men with guns appeared, gave orders and vanished


    Pro-Russian forces appear to be preparing for the Ukrainian military to enter Sloviansk. This photo shows well-armed men taking up positions on the outskirts of the city.

    Pro-Russian gunmen on the outskirts of Sloviansk, Ukraine - 13 April 2014
    Eitokpah Daniel Luhansk, Ukraine

    emails: I view all of these challenges that Ukraine is facing as a sort of test, both financially and otherwise. If the EU is unable to help Ukraine as quick as possible, then I really do not see a need for joining the EU.

    10:31: Breaking News

    One member of the Ukrainian security forces has been killed and five others have been wounded in clashes in Sloviansk, Ukraine's interior minister has said. Arsen Avakov said there had been an "unidentifiable number" of pro-Russian casualties during the "anti-terror" operation.

    "This happened at one of the roadblocks set up by the separatists. They opened direct fire at security forces as they were approaching the roadbclock," an unnamed security source told a Ukrainian news agency.


    Interior Minister Avakov also accuses pro-Russian gunmen of using civilians as cover and says the Ukrainian forces are regrouping before continuing their operation.

    Gabriel Gatehouse BBC News

    tweets: Second checkpoint into Sloviansk from Donetsk: tires completely blocking the road. Ladies filling Molotov cocktails. "We're ready to fight."

    Pro-Russians prepare Molotov cocktails as they guard a barricade outside the seized police building in Sloviansk - 13 April 2014. Pro-Russians prepare Molotov cocktails outside the seized police building in Sloviansk
    British Foreign Secretary William Hague

    tweets: "Russia must desist from steps which destabilise Ukraine and undermine the possibility of Contact Group talks." He adds: "EU Foreign Ministers will meet on Monday in Luxembourg. Need to remain clear and united on Ukraine."


    Pro-Russian forces have now also taken control of the town council building in Mariupol in the Donetsk region, according to a Ukrainian news website. This would mean five towns or cities in eastern Ukraine have now had government buildings taken over by pro-Russians: Mariupol, Yenakiyeve, Kramatorsk, Druzhkovka and Sloviansk.


    Julian Marshall from BBC Newshour has been speaking to Vyacheslav Nikonov, a senior member of the Russian parliament, this morning. Mr Nikonov insisted Russia was not behind events in eastern Ukraine but said that some people involved in the takeover of government buildings could be Russian nationals. "Some people in eastern Ukraine do have Russian passports," he said.

    He repeated accusations that American private security contractors were on the ground in Ukraine and warned that "if there is a bloody civil war, it will be very hard for Russia to really stay aside." He also accused Kiev of being "reckless" and "harmful" to Ukraine's interests. You can hear the full interview with Mr Nikonov on the BBC World Service at 1200GMT.

    Abdujalil Abdurasulov BBC News

    reports that the police headquarters in Sloviansk remains in the hands of the pro-Russian protesters and there is no sign of any fighting nearby.

    The barricade outside the police HQ in Sloviansk

    Several Ukrainian news websites have picked up on what they say is an unusual use of a word by one of the pro-Russian gunmen in Sloviansk. In a video shot in Kramatorsk, a man in camouflage uses the word "porebrik," meaning a pavement's "kerb." Vitaliy Shevchenko from BBC Monitoring says it is a very uncommon term among Russian speakers in Ukraine and is more frequently used by Russians from St Petersburg.

    Roland Oliphant

    Moscow correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, tweets: Crossed into Sloviansk on foot from south side. State of siege or something like it. Back from the barricades the pro gunmen waiting under trees

    12:13: David Stern BBC News

    writes from Donetsk: More and more police stations and government buildings are falling to unidentified gunmen - who carry Russian weapons and look very much like the Kremlin forces who took Crimea. Ukraine's government appears to not have a choice whether to use force. The choice, it seems, is being made for them.


    Two women who are part of the pro-Russian crowd outside the seized police station in Sloviansk have been speaking to the BBC. One, called Irina, said: "We do not want war. We want to speak [Russian], we don't want to be forced to speak Ukrainian. We need a referendum."

    Another, called Tanya, said: "I am not a separatist. We've been waiting for three months for Maidan [the opposition movement in Kiev] to calm down and everything to be resolved, but they brought us to this stage."


    Russian state TV channel Rossiya 1 is reporting that Kiev launched its "anti-terror operation" after secret consultations with CIA chief John Brennan in Ukraine. "The order to start the special operation was given by head of the Interior Ministry Avakov. By doing that, he essentially announced the beginning of a civil war," Rossiya 1 said.


    "The situation in eastern Ukraine has moved into a new and ominous phase," writes Tim Judah, who is reporting from Sloviansk for The Economist. "No troops have crossed the border in the conventional military sense but what is now playing out across the east appears co-ordinated and has the hallmarks of a Russian operation."

    UK Foreign Office spokesperson

    says: The latest occupations by armed groups of government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine are a further dangerous escalation of an already dangerous situation.

    Assumptions that Russia is complicit are inevitable as long as Moscow does not publicly distance itself from these latest lawless actions. Russia must desist from steps which destabilise Ukraine and undermine the possibility of Contact Group talks.

    European Foreign Ministers will meet on Monday to discuss how to respond to the latest events


    There have also been some clashes at the scene of opposing rallies in Kharkiv today, with the organiser of a pro-Kiev march saying some people were injured when fights broke out with pro-Russians. Writing in Russian on his Facebook page, Volodymyr ChistilĐľn said the pro-Russian crowd was large and aggressive.

    The number of people at the rallies in Kharkiv today is still unclear, but several thousand people marched in the city yesterday to show their support for the government in Kiev.

    Thousands rally in support of a united Ukraine in the city of Kharkiv - 12 April 2014
    Abdujalil Abdurasulov BBC News

    tweets: Burning tyres at one of the checkpoints near Sloviansk

    Burning tyres at one of the checkpoonts near Sloviansk
    13:49: Lotte Leicht, EU Director, Human Rights Watch

    tweets: The @OSCE has a huge monitoring mission in #Ukraine. It must provide timely & public reporting to deter abuses & counter propaganda.


    A video has emerged of a pro-Russian crowd stopping a convoy of Ukrainian soldiers in Artemovsk, south east of Sloviansk. In the film, a man who says he served with Soviet forces in Afghanistan tells the soldiers that they cannot travel in the region without documentation. The soldiers, who appear to be reservists recently called up to the National Guard, eventually hand their weapons over to the group.


    "Separatists" have seized the town council building in Mariupol in Donetsk region, tweets Novosti Donbassa, an independent Donetsk-based news website.


    The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, has told the BBC that in his mind there is no doubt that the attack in Sloviansk had been orchestrated by Moscow.


    "What we see, the pictures, is groups which are well armed, identical automatic rifles. They don't look like the local chapter of Save The Children, to put it rather mildly," says Mr Bildt.

    Lotte Leicht, EU Director, Human Rights Watch

    tweets: Statements by @SwissOSCE2014 are no substitute to urgently needed timely & public reporting by the @OSCE's monitoring mission in #Ukraine.

    Munir Mian, Montreal, Canada

    emails: Russia has been encircled in the West by the militarised Baltic states effectively denying Russia access to the Baltic sea. Americans will have to withdraw from the Baltic states through negotiations and reduce tension in the region.


    Nato is watching events in Ukraine with "growing alarm", an official tells the BBC.


    The Nato official adds that the alliance believes Russian forces are involved in seizing buildings in the east, in the same way that they were involved in Crimea before it was annexed.

    A pro-Russian protester burns tires in preparation for battle on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk on April 13

    Pro-Russian gunmen were well prepared by the time Ukrainian forces launched an assault earlier in the outskirts of Sloviansk.

    14:29: Catherine Ashton EU High Representative

    says: "I am gravely concerned about the surge of actions undertaken by armed individuals and separatist groups in various cities of Eastern Ukraine, who have seized in the last 24 hours police stations and branches of the Ministry of Interior, and erected check points around the city of Slavyansk. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission plays and must continue to play a crucial role in actively observing and reporting about these developments and thus contributing to prevent a further escalation of the situation."

    14:31: Catherine Ashton EU High Representative

    added: "I reiterate the EU's strong support for Ukraine's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity and call upon Russia to do so as well. To this end, the Russian Federation is urged to call back its troops from the Ukrainian border and to cease any further actions aimed at destabilising Ukraine."


    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin takes a timely swipe at the West, tell a meeting of students that Russia's future lies in the east, not the west.


    "In the east, Russia borders on Japan, China, India is close by, the two Koreas, the entire South East Asia. All the future history of the 21st Century will be there, in the East, surely not in the West confined in the small European Union," says Mr Rogozin.


    Mr Rogozin, was placed under sanctions by the West earlier this year, clearly has no time for diplomacy at the moment: "Cannot go to America, cannot buy a yacht, cannot ride a luxury car. Do they think we are really going to be sad about this? We now have Crimea, we will go there."

    Girls dressed in the uniform of Soviet pioneers, wait outside near Simferopol in Crimea, before the start of a costumed reconstruction performance dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Simferopol from fascist troops during World War Two

    Meanwhile the people of newly annexed Crimea have been indulging in Soviet nostalgia, staging re-enactments of the liberation of Simferopol from Nazi troops on the 70th anniversary.


    Local officials say the situation in Donetsk region "remains complicated". More than 10,000 people are currently involved in rallies and protests across the region, with tensions at their highest in Sloviansk.


    The local authority's statement went on to say there were armed confrontation on the road linking Sloviansk and Artemivsk, and there have been attempts to capture police departments in other towns, including Dobropillya and Horlivka.


    People with bats and wearing pro-Russian St George ribbons have attacked a pro-Kiev rally in Kharkiv, Interfax-Ukraine reports. Several hundred young men attacked the crowd of about 1,000 as the rally was ending, despite a police cordon.

    People dressed as Soviet soldiers take part in a costumed reconstruction performance dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Simferopol from Nazi troops during World War Two

    World War Two battle reconstructions in Crimea (see 14:47) are a reminder of the now common view among pro-Russian activists that they once again face a fascist threat.

    Chuck Holmes Deputy Managing Editor, NPR News

    tweets: House Intel Comm chair Mike Rogers tells @rachelnpr that Russian special forces, out of uniform, behind takeovers in eastern Ukraine. (1/2)

    He adds: Rep. Rogers says "they're there to foment violence, to stir the pot, commit acts of sabotage" in Ukraine. Kremlin denies involvement. (2/2)

    A man climbs up a post to remove a Ukrainian flag as protesters hold a rally outside the mayor's office in Mariupol

    Protesters have taken down the Ukrainian flag outside the mayor's office in Mariupol city on the Azov Sea and reportedly occupied the building. That's at least the fifth eastern city apparently targeted in the past 24 hours.


    More on Mariupol: Pro-Russian demonstrators are now said to be erecting barricades outside the town council. A local website has posted photos from the scene.

    Armed man outside the police headquarters in Sloviansk

    Not everyone involved in the seizure of the police headquarters in Sloviansk is armed with modern, military-grade weapons.


    The US could ramp up sanctions against Moscow if it continues its actions in Ukraine, American envoy to the UN Samantha Power suggests in an interview with ABC.


    Ms Power says the latest violence in eastern Ukraine "bears the tell-tale signs of Moscow's involvement".


    For those you struggling to remember how Ukraine ended up in this mess, have a look at our timeline charting all the twists and turns since former leader Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of an association deal with the EU last year.

    Ilya Azar independent Russian journalist

    at the scene, tweets (in Russian) that a man in Sloviansk has been shot and stretchered away. The reason for the shooting is unclear. Via BBC Monitoring.

    Pro-Russia supporters beat a pro-Western activist in Kharkiv

    In Kharkiv earlier, two rival rallies clashed violently after several pro-Russia protesters chased pro-Western protesters and beat them with clubs and sticks.


    Pro-Russia activists wielding clubs have surrounded Kharkiv city council, with Mayor Gennady Kernes inside, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency. (translated by BBC Monitoring).


    Eyewitnesses say the activists in Kharkiv broke into the city council compound and smashed up windows on the ground floor.


    Scuffles break out between rival demonstrators in the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhya (230km west of Donetsk). Activists are streaming apparently live footage of a tense stand-off. Via BBC Monitoring.

    Interior Ministry members stand near men injured in clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Western supporters

    Interfax now quote police in Kharkiv saying 50 people were wounded in clashes (see 15:33, 15:37), 10 of whom needed hospital treatment.


    Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Tymchuk claims on Facebook that "up to 600 people" are part of the pro-Russia forces in Sloviansk. (Translated by BBC Monitoring)


    Tymchuk says the 600 are made up of 100 Russian intelligence workers, with the rest being led by the entourages of an oligarch and a well-known crime lord.


    In Moscow, a woman wears a scarf displaying the coat of arms of Ukraine, during a Russian opposition rally dubbed "The Truth March", to defend freedom of speech and independent Russian media.

    A woman wears a scarf displaying the coat of arms of Ukraine, during a Russian opposition rally dubbed "The Truth March", to defend the freedom of speech and support Russian independent media, in Moscow

    Pro-Russia activists escort a man they say is a provocateur outside the secret service building in Luhansk.

    Pro-Russia activists escort a man they say is a provocateur outside the secret service building in Lugansk

    Video has emerged of what is said to be the aftermath of the shootout on the road from Sloviansk. In the article featuring the video, eyewitnesses are quoted as saying Sloviansk Mayor Nelya Shtepa was at the site to talk to Ukrainian soldiers with armoured personnel carriers when gunmen opened fire, killing a Ukrainian Security Service officer inside an SUV, and wounding others. Via BBC Monitoring.

    Olena Tkachuk Mariupol, Ukraine

    emails: Blaming Russia will not resolve problems in Ukraine. Only when the Ukrainian government takes responsibility and recognises that people in the West and East of Ukraine want different things and find compromise to that, and only when law and order will be back (starting from Kiev), the people of Ukraine can live together.


    The town council building in Makiyivka has been seized by pro-Russia activists, who have raised a Russian flag above it, local website KID reports. More than a thousand people are rallying outside the building and are planning to build barricades, it says. Translated by BBC Monitoring.

    The BBC's Daniel Sandford

    Tweets: Strange day. The people near the Sloviansk barricades seem v wound up, the town practically sealed off. But in Kramatorsk everyone relaxed.


    Perhaps explaining the discrepancy between government claims an operation was going on to retake the police station in Sloviansk, and a lack of activity at the scene, the Liga website (in Russian) quotes an unnamed source saying that the "anti-terrorist operation" has been suspended because Ukrainian security forces refused to move in without cover from armoured vehicles, which were not sent because a state of emergency was not declared.


    Local website Slavgorod has more pictures from the police HQ in Sloviansk. Via BBC Monitoring.

    The BBC's Daniel Sandford

    tweets: We are leaving Sloviansk by the same back road that we came in by. Seems to be one road in one road out now. Burning tyres on one roadblock.


    Ukraine's Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has urged Ukrainians not to support pro-Russia forces in the east. In a TV address he spoke of the need for unity in the face of foreign aggression and urged people not to panic.

    Interim Ukrainian President Olexander Turchynov Photo of Mr Turchynov, taken in March

    Mr Turchynov said Ukrainian security forces were starting a "wide-ranging anti-terrorist operation," although he also promised an amnesty for those who leave captured buildings by Monday.


    A large crowd help build a barricade outside the seized regional administration building in Mariupol.

    Men build a barricade outside the regional administration building in Mariupol

    More than 10,000 people have turned out in Moscow for an anti-Kremlin rally denouncing Russian state TV news coverage, particularly of the Ukraine crisis. State television has portrayed Ukraine's new government as a "fascist junta" under US control, determined to oppress Russian speakers. Some of the participants carried Ukrainian flags.

    A woman, wearing a traditional Ukrainian wreath of flowers on her head, holds up a sign with President Vladimir Putin's picture and the words "Stop lying," in Russian

    On Friday, Nato released a factsheet (pdf) attempting to rebut a long list of Russian claims about the organisation and Ukraine.


    Republican Senator John McCain, appearing on CBS, said the Obama administration's failure to punish Russia over Crimea has emboldened President Putin. He repeated calls for tougher sanctions and for giving Ukrainians light weapons, to defend themselves.


    On Friday, the US imposed sanctions on Crimea-based gas company, Chernomorneftegaz, effectively putting it off limits to Russia's state-controlled Gazprom, which was expected to bid for a stake in the company. It, along with penalties on six Crimean separatists and a former Ukrainian official, is the third round of US sanctions since the Ukraine crisis erupted.


    The Kramatorsk police HQ seized on Saturday is now barricaded to try and prevent anyone recapturing it, the BBC's Olga Ivshina reports.

    The BBC's Olga Ivshina in Kramatorsk
    17:46: The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus writes

    Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's warning is clear and to the point. Many of the groups involved in the take-over of buildings in eastern Ukraine look like professional military forces - exactly what was seen at the outset of Russia's Crimea operation. Many experts say that the weekend's events look neither spontaneous nor unplanned and the fear is that, just as in the Crimea, the Russian government is seeking to use the lack of clarity over who is involved to gain time to create "facts on the ground".


    That concludes our live coverage for Sunday. To recap, the weekend has seen building occupations, violent protests and reports of disturbances right across eastern Ukraine, including in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Druzhkivka, Yenakiyevo, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Zaporizhya, Makiyivka, Donetsk, Mariupol, Luhansk, Kostriantynivka, Ilovaysk, Horlivka, Dobropillya, Artemivsk, and elsewhere.


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