After Crimea, Donetsk May Be the Next Region to Leave Ukraine

Pro-Russian protesters took control of government buildings in three Ukrainian provinces over the weekend

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Anti-government protests in Maidan Square, Kiev, earlier in the year. Sasha Maksymenko

Over the weekend, protesters took control of government buildings across eastern Ukraine. In three cities, DonetskLuhansk and Kharkivsays the BBC, “Pro-Russian protesters...  clashed with police, hung Russian flags from the buildings and called for a referendum on independence.” Each of these cities serves as the administrative center for a Ukraine province that borders Russia.

In Donetsk, the protestors declared that the Donetsk Oblast, or the province of Donetsk, would move to separate from Ukraine and become an independent republic, says the Associated Press. The independent republic of Donetsk would then align with Russia.

Eastern Ukraine is seen as a pro-Russian segment of the country, where many residents are of Russian descent and speak Russian. Ukraine's now-ousted President Viktor Yanukovych rose to power in Donetsk, and he fled there after protestors in Kiev took control of government buildings, including his opulent palace.

It's difficult to nail down what, exactly, is driving these protests. The counter-revolution in eastern Ukraine could be an expression of regional loyalties, that differ from Kiev's. Or it could be driven by self-preservation. Many of the region's residents, says the AP, “believe Ukraine's acting authorities [the Kiev revolutionaries] are Ukrainian nationalists who will oppress Russians.”

Others, though, suggest that the unrest may not be a true civilian uprising, but rather incited by Russians aiming for a secession similar to Crimea's.

In the New Republic, Donetsk resident Irina Kalinina writes about the Russian “tourists” that have allegedly been moving into the region in recent weeks:

Crimea is not the only place where we see Russians. Here in southeastern Ukraine they come as what we like to call “tourists.“ This means busloads of people are coming from across the border of Russia, armed with bats and other unpleasant things, who come to beat Ukrainians who support their new government. They came to Kharkiv and beat the students there, and now they have come here.

Ukrainian officials similarly accused Russia of leading the takeover of the government buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv. The AP:

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk earlier in the day accused Russia of being behind the unrest that broke out in the country's eastern provinces Sunday and of seeking to sow instability as a pretext for dispatching troops across the border.

"The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country's territory, which we will not allow," he said, adding that people engaged in the unrest have distinct Russian accents.

As with the earlier protests in Kiev, the information coming out of Donetsk and other parts of eastern Ukraine is sometimes contradictory, or muddled. So while, something is certainly happening in eastern Ukraine, it's much less clear who is primarily responsible, as of now.

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