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Home News Thousands protest Ukraine upheaval in pro-Russian port

Thousands protest Ukraine upheaval in pro-Russian port

Published on 23/02/2014

Waving placards calling for "Mother Russia" to save them, thousands of people rallied Sunday in Ukraine's port city of Sevastopol to denounce the political upheaval in Kiev as fears grow that the country could splinter.

Home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet for some 200 years, Sevastopol in Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region is a bastion of pro-Moscow sentiment in the deeply divided ex-Soviet state where mass protests have forced Kremlin-allied president Viktor Yanukovich to flee the capital.

Amid fears that it could become a flashpoint for pro-Russian separatists, the United States, Germany, France and Poland made appeals Sunday for Ukraine’s national integrity to be preserved.

In a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both leaders opposed partition, German officials said.

But among some in Sevastopol anger seems to be rising.

“The fascists have taken power in Kiev!” shouted one speaker to the crowd of roughly 10,000 demonstrators as they waved Russian tricolours and navy banners.

On Sunday the opposition-controlled parliament in Kiev appointed a new interim president a day after voting to oust Yanukovych after months of protests turned into a bloodbath this past week, with scores of people gunned down by police.

While protesters in Kiev have mainly come from the country’s pro-Western Ukrainian-speaking population, in Yanukovych’s Russian-speaking heartland in the east and in Crimea people have been frosty if not outright hostile to the changes.

“Bandits have taken power in Kiev. I am here to protect my town,” said Stanislav Bolotnikovsky, 53.

Russia has condemned the events in Ukraine as a putsch and painted the protesters in Kiev — where nationalist and rightwing groups make up a hardcore — as dangerous extremists.

Those sentiments were echoed Sunday on the streets of Sevastopol.

“A coup d’etat has taken place in Kiev. I don’t want my children to live in a country led by fascists,” said small businesman Evgeny, 39.

– ‘Reattach Crimea to Russia’ –

But the ire is not just directed against the demonstrators in the Ukrainian capital.

Instead much of the anger is targeted at Yanukovych and how he handled the crisis.

“Yanukovych is not my president anymore. He showed proof of weakness by sending unprotected policemen in against armed bandits,” pro-Russia protester Bolotinsky said.

Another demonstrator, retiree Tatyana Segeyevna spoke about stability and the broader destiny of the country.

“Yesterday I hoped that there could be some sort of solution. Now though we have to reattach Crimea to Russia– that way we’ll get stability back,” she said.

Up until 1954 Crimea belonged to Russia but it was then given to the Ukrainian Soviet republic and has long been seen as a potential source of conflict.

The recent unrest in Kiev started when Yanukovych turned his back on signing a pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with former master Moscow. The protests spiralled into a titanic tug-of-war over the country’s future between Russia and the West.

Local officials in Crimea however have moved quickly to quash fears of a potential separatist uprising.

Crimea’s prime minister Anatolii Mohyliov declared Sunday that the region was ready to “follow” the decisions taken by parliament since Yanukovych’s majority there collapsed over the weekend.