Ukraine’s eastern city of Donetsk ended the weekend intact, after the regional parliament building was stormed in pro-Russian protests that were high in energy.
The demonstrators were removed from the building and their leader Pavel Gubarev was arrested on the orders of the newly-appointed regional governor, Serhiy Taruta, who is a businessman and the sixteenth-richest Ukrainian.
It was a controversial step for the new government in Kyiv to name an oligarch at the head of the eastern mining region. It is not expected that many of the Maidan protesters had that in mind when they risked their lives at the barricades.
But many oligarchs won people’s respect after they amassed fortunes and reinvested in the region. This boosted the economy and living standards. The oligarchs have an interest in ensuring political stability and keeping Russian competitors out.
Euronews Ukraine correspondent Angelina Kariakina asked governor Serhiy Taruta about the Donetsk region’s appetite for change.
Angelina Kariakina, Euronews: “What is currently happening in the Donets Basin region? How strong is the public desire for a referendum or even for joining Russia?”
Serhiy Taruta, Governor of Donetsk region: “That is rhetoric that is being used to destabilise things here. I understand that scenario was made up for Crimea. The strongest part of Crimea’s scenario was ‘we must vote on rejoining Russia’. But this is not something the Donets Basin needs. People here do want more autonomy, they want power decentralised. The Party of Regions and President Yanukovych gained lots of support exactly because they promised decentralisation. He promised lots of other things but unfortunately didn’t deliver. People here wish to make their prosperity with their own hands. That is obvious, and, I believe, right. But we should act within the law. The law says that holding a referendum is decided at state level.”
euronews: “Do you believe that Russia could intervene in eastern and southern Ukraine?”
Taruta: “I don’t believe in such a scenario. I believe in common sense. This is not Crimea. More than nine out of ten local people realise that any intervention is really dangerous and will destabilise life in the region. It will lead to a long-term conflict. I believe the Russian side realises this as well. I also believe that suggesting scenarios of this sort is a kind of psychological attack on people, to provoke them. I don’t see a threat, but the information I have tells me we can protect our region.”
euronews: “How do the police feel? Might they take the side of the protesters?”
Taruta: “The police nowadays have “post-Maidan syndrome”, we might say. They’re afraid they’ll be condemned, as police were during the unrest at Maidan, even for using legal means against protesters. What we managed to do since the first day of taking office is to change police and security chiefs in Donetsk. We felt the difference immediately. Now the police are more effective. Even though we have so much to reform, we hope we’ll see things completely differently in the next few weeks.”