Pro-Russian protesters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk have forced the local police chief to resign, after threatening to storm police headquarters. Armed pro-Russian groups also took over police buildings in the nearby city of Slovyansk, seizing firearms. Ukraine’s acting President Oleksander Turchinov has called a meeting of the National Security Council, late Saturday after his interior minster reported that a “gunfight” had erupted between local security forces and militants in the eastern town of Kramatorsk.
“The Ukrainian authorities consider the events of the day as a display of external aggression from Russia,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement. “Units of the interior and defense ministries are implementing an operational response plan,” he added.
Russia and Ukraine have been in confrontation since protests in Kyiv forced the Moscow-backed president from office, and the Kremlin sent troops to annex Crimea, the home of its Black Sea Fleet and a part of Russia until 1954.
At the Donetsk police headquarters, the Russian colors fly alongside the regional separatist flag.
Around 200 pro-Russian protesters armed with clubs and knives took over the building Saturday and met no resistance — forcing the police chief to resign.
“Here in Donetsk, everyone is sick of the powers in Kyiv,” complained Oleksander Korfman, one of the organizers. “That includes the police. They can’t break their pledge to the state, but they are with the people.”
Later around a dozen heavily armed Ukrainian police — known as Berkut — were welcomed into the headquarters. It appears there is much sympathy for the protesters among security forces.
Most of the protesters then left the police building in the hands of special forces. One protester — who did not want to be named — said the takeover was aimed at ensuring police weapons are not used against the demonstrators.
“The special forces will secure the place so no one steals the weapons inside. We will go back to our positions at the regional administration building,” the protester said.
Armed pro-Russian groups also stormed police buildings in the nearby city of Slovyansk Saturday. There were reports that the demonstrators seized around 400 firearms. One who gave the name Sergei explained their actions.
“Our people want to live quietly and peacefully, without the junta who seized power in Kyiv,” he said, “and so that we are not under America and the West. We don’t want to be their slaves. We want to be with Russia.”
Authorities in Kyiv accuse Russia of instigating the trouble that has spreading across the east of the country — a charge Moscow denies.