Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in eastern Ukraine to back Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich as president and press calls for autonomy if opposition protests overturn his election. One woman said, “We live in this country, and it is us and our children who will determine its future”.
Yanukovich’s supporters voiced support for a proposed referendum to ensure the east would never have to take orders again from the capital Kiev. The east, which generates much of Ukraine’s wealth with its chemical, steel and coal industries, is largely Orthodox, while the west, which relies on small industry and agriculture, has a 5-million-strong eastern-rite Catholic minority. Leaders in towns across the Russian-speaking Donbass coalfield hailed Yanukovich’s victory and blasted as “political terrorists” rival demonstrators backing his liberal opponent Viktor Yushchenko’s allegation that the vote was rigged. There have been some demonstrations in favour of Yushchenko in a few eastern Ukrainian towns. But analysts say regional governors are using the political crisis to grab more power from the centre.