While Western media is describing protesters in eastern Ukraine as separatists sponsored by Russia, RT has spoken to protesters from various hotspots across the region to find out who they really are and what brings them to the barricades.
“I am a Ukrainian. I am from the Donetsk region,” a masked activist tells the RT crew, as he lets the cameraman grab a close-up of his Ukrainian passport and lashes out at the current authorities in the capital: “In Kiev they are snakes. Corruption is everywhere. But we want justice”.
Those unhappy with the coup-installed authorities in Kiev are now subject to a crackdown by government forces. On Monday, acting President Aleksandr Turchinov announced that a military operation had been launched against the pro-federalization insurgents in the north of the Donetsk region.
“The anti-terrorist operation started overnight Monday,” Turchinov said. “The aim of these actions is to protect the citizens of Ukraine.”
The threat of a military crackdown has not scared protesters away from the Donetsk administration building, which is surrounded by barricades.
“If they start attacking us with weapons, we’ll figure out how to arm ourselves,” Oleg, a protester, who says he is former presidential bodyguard, warned RT.
The industrial core of the country, the east, where the mining enterprises are concentrated, have felt betrayed by the new Kiev authorities, who’ve labeled anti-government protesters there as separatists and even terrorists.
“I did not just come here today, I've been here from the beginning,” Oleg says. “The authorities in Kiev don't listen to us, they just want us to feed those Nazi collaborators. Donetsk sends money to Kiev - it pays for them.”
Another protester by the barricaded Donetsk administration, who only gave his first name, Sergey, says he can’t wait to change his Ukrainian passport for a Donetsk Republic one.
“I belong to a self-defense unit of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” Sergey says. “We are here to defend the building of the regional administration from the Right Sector. We expect an operation against us at any moment”.
The Right Sector, the ultra-nationalist movement, whose members were most active in the February coup in Kiev and whose leader, Dmitry Yarosh, is now running for president, is considered a major threat by the self-defense units in Donetsk.
“This is my Greeting to the Right Sector,” Ilya, an activist from the Russkoe Edinstvo (Russian Unity) movement, who came to Donetsk from Kherson, says, showing his knife. “This is also for them, who else could it be for? Hello, Yarosh!” he adds pointing at his revolver.
One of the first decisions by the coup-imposed Ukrainian government was to ban the law, which allows largely Russian-speaking regions to have Russian as the second official language. The decision was hugely unpopular in the Ukrainian east and south and has inspired protests there.
“I want to explain why we're doing this: we got intimidated, our rights and language were undermined,” one of the protesters’ leaders in Lugansk said at a press-conference. “Our miners are working extremely hard, but look at our towns - they are left in complete disarray. We categorically reject the authorities in Kiev.”
Coup-appointed President Aleksandr Turchinov announced on Monday that Kiev may hold a national referendum on the future political system of Ukraine simultaneously with the presidential election on May 25. That is something the protesters in eastern Ukraine want – constitutional reform which would give more powers to the country’s regions.
An offensive launched against the protesters is, however, hardly contributing to political dialogue between the eastern and western Ukraine.
To hear more views and comments from protesters in the country’s east, watch RT Maria Finoshina’s report from Donetsk.