May Day celebrations in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, have turned violent as pro-autonomy activists seized the local Prosecutor’s Office. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades but later relinquished their weapons.
The storming of the Donetsk Region Prosecutor’s Office began as several dozen shield-holding protesters pelted rocks and petrol bombs at the building while chanting “Fascists!,” as they tried to break in.
Twenty-six people sustained injuries, including gunshot wounds, as a result of the storm and clashes, RIA Novosti reported, citing Donetsk officials. Two of them have been hospitalized. The Interior Ministry said that one National Guard soldier was wounded.
— Roza Kazan (@rozakazancctv) May 1, 2014
The activists demanded that law enforcers come out of the building and surrender, while about 200 police remained inside. Initially, the police hit back with tear gas and stun grenades, but later refrained from using force and took cover under shields as protesters continued to throw stones.
“Some security forces are laying down their shields, letting activists take them,” RT’s correspondent in Ukraine, Paula Slier reported on Twitter.
Eventually, the activists entered the building as the police left, removed the Ukrainian national flag, burned it and replaced it with the flag of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk.
The protesters formed a so-called “shame corridor” to let law enforcers out of the building, according to Interfax-Ukraine.
After the police were defeated, the crowd cheered the victors with a “well done!” chant and held a demonstration in front of the building.
— Roza Kazan (@rozakazancctv) May 1, 2014
May Day celebrations in Donetsk, one of the largest cities in crisis-torn Ukraine, began peacefully, with up to 300 communists marching through the city on Thursday morning. Waving hammer and sickle flags, they chanted: “Fascism will not pass,” and sang Soviet songs.
Later in the day, the communist march was followed by several thousands of anti-government protesters taking to the streets to demand a referendum on more autonomy from Kiev and a release of anti-government protesters.
Activists staged a rally in the city center calling for a boycott on the upcoming presidential elections. They also demanded freedom for the “people’s governor” of Donetsk”, Pavel Gubarev, who has been under arrest in Kiev since early March.
May Day, also known as International Worker's Day, was marked by demonstrations in cities across southeastern Ukraine on Thursday.
In Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea, about 2,000 activists – including supporters of the federalization of Ukraine and leftists – held a march to mark the holiday, which used to be one of the most important days during the Soviet era.
Activists from the People’s Alternative movement set up a tent camp in the city center to collect signatures in support of a referendum that would give regions more autonomy and grant the Russian language status of the second official language in Ukraine, Itar-Tass reported.
Protesters vowed to stay at the site until authorities fulfilled their demands regarding a popular vote and released all protesters arrested by Ukrainian security services.
“We want to build a bright future and take all the best we had in the past. The people who come to our rallies have an ideology unlike those who have likened ideas to the contents of their refrigerators,” Oleg Muzyka, one of the leaders of the Rodina (Fatherland) party, said.
Local media reported that several radical protesters called on demonstrators to storm the Odessa administration building, but were ousted from the crowd.
In Kharkov – Ukraine’s second largest city – a May Day demonstration was held next to the monument to Lenin, the Bolshevik Revolution leader. Just like in neighboring regions, traditional Soviet slogans were accompanied by anti-government chants as communists were joined by autonomy supporters. Later, a group of activists waving flags of the so-called People’s Republic of Kharkov split from the main event and moved on to the city administration building, which was being heavily guarded by law enforcement. No major incidents were reported.