Crimea first, eastern Ukraine next? Pro-Russia protesters last night seized government buildings in the cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk in Ukraine's largely Russian-speaking east, waving Russian flags and demanding a referendum on joining Russia, reports Reuters. In Donetsk, separatists have dubbed the region an independent republic, and have called for the sovereignty referendum to be held by May 11, the AP reports, noting that Crimea did much the same before Russia annexed it. These self-proclaimed lawmakers have also asked Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops, according to Russia's state-run ITAR-Tass news agency.
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has canceled a trip abroad to deal with the unrest, and the country's interior minister, who blames the protests on Vladimir Putin and ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich, says the turmoil will be dealt with non-violently. He added that "separatists" had been removed from one building in Kharkiv as of today. More:
- Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk today emphasized those Russian fears, saying that country's troops were roughly 20 miles from the border and asserting that "an anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation ... under which foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of the country."
- Reuters reports that in Luhansk, protesters occupying the state security building have reportedly taken hold of weapons.
- Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a Ukrainian military officer in Crimea was last night killed by a Russian soldier who fired an automatic weapon at the unarmed man. The death apparently resulted from a confrontation between a number of Ukrainian and Russian troops, and occurred in a military dorm. Some Ukrainian military personnel remain in Crimea to facilitate the transition, notes the Times.