Gunmen have seized a police station and other government buildings in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland as a week long stand-off shows no sign of ending.
Pro-Russian protesters have barricaded themselves inside government buildings across the eastern region and demanded independence from Kyiv.
Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slovyansk and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city.
Ukrainian authorities have described the events as a “display of external aggression from Russia.”
In most of the cities where the pro-Russian demonstrations are taking place, local police have surrendered and it remains unclear from whom they are taking orders.
“Our people want to live quietly and peacefully, without the junta who seized power in Kiev and so that we were not under America and the West. We don’t want to be their slaves. We want to be with Russia,” said one masked man.
The mayor of Slovyansk did try to appeal to the protesters to lay down their weapons amid fears an eruption of violence could have unforeseen consequences.
Russia and Ukraine have been in confrontation since protests in Kyiv forced the Moscow-backed president from office, and the Kremlin sent troops to annex Crimea, the home of its Black Sea Fleet and a part of Russia until 1954.
Moscow denies any plan to send in forces or split Ukraine, but the Western-leaning authorities in Kiev believe Russia is trying to create a pretext to interfere again. NATO says Russian armed forces are massing on Ukraine’s eastern border, while Moscow says they are on normal manoeuvres.