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Donetsk crowds protest Ukrainian elections, besiege richest oligarch’s mansion

Published time: May 25, 2014 22:47
Edited time: May 26, 2014 03:47
Activists take part in a demonstration against the new Kiev government at Lenin square in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, on May 25, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Natalia Seliverstova)

Activists take part in a demonstration against the new Kiev government at Lenin square in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, on May 25, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Natalia Seliverstova)

Several thousand people took part in an anti-govt rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, rejecting Sunday elections and hailing the region’s self-determination. The crowd then marched to a residence of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarch, blocking it.

As people in Kiev cast their votes at the May 25 Ukrainian presidential elections amid almost celebratory atmosphere, there was a strong mood of rejection and anger in the industrial center of Donetsk, the heart of volatile eastern Donetsk Region – and the capital of the recently proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Hundreds of people flocked to the city’s center during the day to demonstrate against the early elections, which they believe are unable to represent their interests and concerns. The so-called “anti-terrorist operation,” launched by Kiev authorities against the dissent in the east has set many people against the Ukrainian state as it now stands.

Similar action took place in Kharkov, where over 2,000 people gathered to denounce Ukraine’s presidential election. This resulted in some clashes after police tried to arrest a man with St. George's ribbons and the crowd intervened on his behalf.

RT’s Ruptly agency captured emotional speeches delivered by speakers at the Donetsk rally, who blasted the “fascist” policies of the coup-imposed Ukrainian authorities and called for the people in the region to “rise up.” Flags of Donetsk Republic, Russia and anti-government placards could be seen.

YouTube was then flooded by footage of the self-defense’s Vostok Battalion, which arrived to the rally in five trucks and one APC. The demonstrators, both elderly and young, greeted the armed men in camouflage as their protectors, chanting “heroes,” shaking their hands and hugging them.

Meanwhile in most Ukrainian media, the recently-formed “battalion” of self-defense volunteers was presented as“Chechen, Ossetian and Russian insurgents.” The media hype has been drawing on the disbanded Russian special forces unit with a matching name, which took part in the South Ossetian conflict and was, indeed, made up of mostly Chechen nationals.

The word “Vostok,” however, simply means “East” in Russian and no evidence of the connection between the armed groups has ever been presented by the media.

‘Akhmetov! Excursion! Donetsk Republic!’

After the armed militia paid tribute to self-defense fighters killed in Ukrainian military operations with shots in the air, a group of some 400 people marched in the direction of the residence of Rinat Akhmetov – the man believed to be the richest Ukrainian oligarch.

Akhmetov, the owner of System Capital Management financial and industrial group that controls a large share of eastern Ukrainian industries and employs up to 300,000 workers in mining, metallurgy, power generation, banking, insurance, telecommunications, media and real estate fields, has been ambiguous in his stance on protests in eastern Ukraine. Having recently made some statements in support of the eastern Ukrainians’ concerns and against the Kiev’s military operation, Akhmetov then reportedly pressed his employees to start taking part in “anti-separatist” rallies.

The billionaire forced thousands of his workers last week to participate in daily “warning rallies” against the “separatists”. The management of Akhmentov’s Mariupol mining companies confirmed on Tuesday that for that purpose workers would be discharged from work for three hours every day at noon.

RT’s sources in Donetsk working at Akhmetov-controlled companies that asked not to be named, said that employees have recently been gathered at the city’s Donbass Arena stadium en masse and ordered to attend there rallies under a threat of losing their jobs.

The reported action apparently backfired, as a hundreds-strong crowd supported by armed self-defense on Sunday blocked Akhmetov’s residence, demanding him to take the protesters’ side and to start paying taxes to the Donetsk budget instead of Kiev.

The demonstrators, who apparently got a taste for “excursions” into the lavish ex-President Yanukovich’s mansion, chanted “Akhmetov! Excursion! Donetsk Republic!” Some demanded the “nationalization” of the companies owned by the oligarch.

While Donetsk Republic representatives started negotiations with Akhmetov’s people at the residence, the oligarch himself was not available for talks, being in Kiev, but reported participated in negotiations via Skype.

Donetsk Republic negotiators calmed the crowd, saying that no “excursions” to the oligarch’s mansion would take place until the talks are over. They reiterated that the main demand is for Akhmetov to pay taxes locally and not a forceful nationalization of his businesses. The talks are set to resume on Monday while the residence was taken under the control and protection of the republic’s forces.

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