Europe

Unrest prompts soul-searching in Ukraine media

Pro-Russian activists guard a barricade set at the Ukrainian regional Security Service building on the eastern city of DonetskPro-Russian activists guard a barricade set at the Ukrainian regional Security Service building on the eastern city of Donetsk Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pro-Russian activists have seized state security buildings in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk

Following pro-Russian rallies in eastern Ukraine and the seizure of government buildings, the country's media have been focusing on protesters' demands for a referendum on joining Russia and on the perceived inaction of the security forces.

Referendum

Ukrainian newspaper Vecherniye Vesti accuses Russia of fomenting "a new wave of separatism" in the country's east. "While Kiev is working on reforms, the Kremlin continues to stir the separatist mood, at times wrapping it up in the idea of 'federalisation', but increasingly often even without doing that... But even though these dogs are barking, our caravan keeps moving."

Journalist Vakhtang Kipiani accuses the government of failing to ensure Ukraine's territorial integrity. Posting on Facebook, he says: "I've had enough. The clueless government is losing the east just as it lost Crimea. The impotent generals and ministers will burn in hell. I don't believe we can stop our country from falling apart with what we've got."

The Vesti website takes a broader view of the situation. It offers three possible scenarios: that the protesters have no plan and they just want to attract the new government's attention; that the Sunday protests mirrored the Crimea scenario that will end with a referendum on joining Russia; or that Russia is trying to disrupt the presidential election called for 25 May.

Writing for the popular daily Segodnya, commentator Volodymyr Fesenko warns against holding a referendum similar to the Crimean one. He argues that Ukrainian law does not allow local referendums. "If they give in to the rebels, it will set off a chain reaction in the entire region," Mr Fesenko says.

Another commentator for the same paper, Oleksandr Paliy, plays down calls for a referendum. Pro-Russian demonstrators in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk are only a small minority of the city's population, he says. "It was not the whole city of Donetsk rallying, but only 800 people who were trying to speak on behalf of the city's 4 million residents. According to recent polls, 75 per cent of the city's residents support the country's territorial integrity."

Posting on Facebook, journalist Oleksandr Bryhynets says "separatist calls voiced by a thousand people in the three regions are much ado about nothing. The important thing is for people to take to the streets to protest against separatism today or tomorrow."

Police "sabotage"

Reporting on the storming of government buildings in Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk, tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine observes that police put up no resistance. "It looked like the police were not planning to use force against those who stormed the buildings at all", the paper says.

Defence expert and blogger Dmytro Tymchuk also chooses to highlight perceived police inaction during the unrest in eastern Ukraine. "There is probably no point in trying to hide the fact that most of the police in eastern Ukraine have simply stopped doing their jobs. A campaign of sabotage is underway, and its scale is ominous," he says.

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