Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine have called on the Kremlin to help defend them against Ukrainian government forces as a deadline for them to disarm expired.
The direct appeal to Moscow came as Ukraine’s interim president asked the UN to send peacekeepers to the east of country to end violent clashes which took place over the weekend.
Vowing to repel what he described as Russian aggression, the acting Ukraine President, Olexandr Turchynov, also signalled his support for a vote on the future shape of Ukraine.
‘‘We are not against having a referendum. Moreover, if the parliament gives the go ahead for such a referendum, in conjunction with the presidential elections, I am convinced the vast majority of Ukrainians will vote in favour of being part of an independent, democratic and unified Ukraine.’‘
For the moment, Kyiv has not carried out its threat of a full scale security operation to remove pro-Russian militia from key government buildings in its eastern cities. However, the possible use of force has raised fears that Russia may intervene militarily.
Ukrainian unity activists have also held rallies in the centre of the country, with some protesters calling on Ukraine’s interior minister to step down over his handling of the escalating crisis in the east.