Ukraine Violence Spreads as Government’s Grip on East Loosens Further – Wall Street Journal

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Ukraine Violence Spreads as Government’s Grip on East Loosens Further – Wall Street Journalby wpjljron.Ukraine Violence Spreads as Government’s Grip on East Loosens Further – Wall Street JournalA Ukrainian soldier, with armored personnel carriers behind him, points his weapon at an approaching car at a checkpoint near the town of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, on Saturday. Reuters MOSCOW—Fighting in Ukraine grew more widespread as the Kiev government stepped up a campaign to quell a pro-Russian insurgency, with clashes reported in several cities and […]

A Ukrainian soldier, with armored personnel carriers behind him, points his weapon at an approaching car at a checkpoint near the town of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, on Saturday.
Reuters

MOSCOW—Fighting in Ukraine grew more widespread as the Kiev government stepped up a campaign to quell a pro-Russian insurgency, with clashes reported in several cities and local defense battalions being formed in two regions that had previously been unaffected by the unrest.

Clashes in at least six eastern cities over the weekend followed the deadliest day of the weeks-old conflict on Friday, which involved clashes and a major fire in the Black Sea city of Odessa that left 46 people dead. Earlier that day, Ukrainian forces relaunched an offensive to reclaim control of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, surrounding the city.

On Sunday, several hundred pro-Russian protesters gathered outside Odessa’s central police station, demanding the release of those arrested during Friday’s fatal rioting, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said. Local news reports said that the crowd threw bricks at the building and tried to force their way inside but were initially driven back.

Ukrainian Prime Minister

Arseniy Yatsenyuk

on Sunday blamed the country’s security services for failing to stop Friday’s violence in Odessa. He said there would be a “full, comprehensive and independent investigation,” and that all those who helped instigate the violence would be tracked down.

A day earlier, the Interior Ministry said the regional police chief in Odessa had been fired, and that nearly 200 people had been arrested. Mr. Yatsenyuk said the entire regional police force would be reorganized.

The widening scale of the fighting opens a more dangerous phase of a conflict that has further loosened the new Ukrainian government’s grip on the east, where a move for greater autonomy from Kiev has gained strength.

Ukraine’s military operation in the east drew further criticism from Russia, which has repeatedly called the use of arms against civilians a criminal act. On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

told U.S. Secretary of State

John Kerry

by phone that the fighting is “plunging the country into a fratricidal war.”

On Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of “cleansing some communities and blocking others” in the operation and urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe to undergo an “objective evaluation of the developments in Ukraine.”

One member of Russia’s parliament warned Sunday that Ukraine may be heading toward a bloody conflict similar to that seen following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

“We are starting to realize that in a worst-case scenario Ukraine is headed for a fate like we saw in Yugoslavia,” said Mikhail Markelov, a member of Russia’s lower house and

Vladimir Putin‘s

ruling United Russia Party.

The Ukrainian government and the West have repeatedly blamed Russia for instigating the unrest and of organizing parts of the rebellion by sending in highly trained Russian military-intelligence officers. Moscow has denied playing any role in the uprising.

The conflict comes as Ukraine seeks to regain control in the east ahead of presidential elections scheduled for May 25, as pro-Russian militants plan a May 11 referendum in areas under their control on the question of the region’s future.

Rescuers attempted to help people get out of a burning trade-union building in Odessa, Ukraine on Friday after it was set on fire during riots between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine demonstrators.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel present a united front on the Ukraine crisis, Berkshire Hathaway heir apparent to be Buffett’s eldest son, a Mother’s Day gift guide, India’s current business climate. Photo: Getty

On Saturday and early Sunday morning, Ukrainian officials reported clashes in the port city of Mariupol in the Donetsk region, where police and pro-Russian militants struggled for control of several government buildings.

The Interior Ministry said the fighting was triggered late Saturday after a group of soldiers manning a roadblock near the city were given food laced with sleeping pills by local residents and then taken hostage and their weapons stolen by a pro-Russian mob that took advantage of their drugged state.

The men were then taken to a militant-controlled government building, which led to a gunbattle when Ukrainian authorities moved in to secure the kidnapped soldiers’ release, the ministry said.

In the regional capital of the neighboring Luhansk region, where thousands of pro-Russian forces overran the main government buildings earlier this week, the Interior Ministry reported heavy fighting with militants armed with grenade launchers as it regained control of a security service office. Several police and military conscripts were wounded in the exchange, the ministry said.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said late Saturday that its forces now control 14 roadblocks leading into Slovyansk and had moved significant military equipment into the region, effectively isolating the rebels holed up there. The Interior Ministry also said officers had engaged in pitched battles to take back control of television broadcasting towers in nearby Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka, and had suffered casualties.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said Saturday that it was beginning to form and arm territorial defense units in the regions of Zaporizhzhya and Kirovohrad, which have so far suffered no unrest, suggesting authorities fear the violence may soon spread farther. The units will comprise civilians and retired military officers, and will be used to protect strategic installations from “subversive groups,” the ministry said.

The stepped-up fighting comes after military observers for OSCE who had been held hostage by pro-Russian fighters in Slovyansk for more than a week were released on Saturday.

Write to Lukas I. Alpert at [email protected]

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