Ukraine’s security service: 60 people taken hostage in eastern city of Luhansk

Ukraine’s government struggled to stay in control of the country’s eastern regions as tensions flared Tuesday in three cities. While the government managed to recapture its regional headquarters and detain dozens of pro-Russian protesters in one city, it said “radicals” were keeping 60 people hostage and threatening them in another city.

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine’s government struggled to stay in control of the country’s eastern regions as tensions flared Tuesday in three cities. While the government managed to recapture its regional headquarters and detain dozens of pro-Russian protesters in one city, it said “radicals” were keeping 60 people hostage and threatening them in another city.

Unknown “separatists” with weapons and explosives were threatening the hostages inside a security service branch in the city of Luhansk, the Ukrainian Security Service said in a statement Tuesday.

It was not clear who the hostages were or if they were security service employees. The building was seized Sunday by armed pro-Russian protesters.

Earlier Tuesday, Ukrainian authorities battled with pro-Russian protesters but regained control over a government building in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, evicting the protesters and detaining dozens.

In Donetsk, a city 250 kilometres (155 miles) further south, protesters dug in for their third day at the 11-story regional administration headquarters they captured on Sunday and began to declare their own parallel government.

Serhiy Taruta, the governor of Donetsk, scoffed at the shifting events in his city.

“I call this a theatre of the absurd,” he said. “It is just artists performing, but the main thing is that there is an ever-dwindling audience.”

All three cities are in Ukraine’s east, where hostility is strong toward the government that took power in February after the ouster of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. Even though Ukraine’s interim authorities have achieved some success in quelling unrest that swept across eastern provinces Sunday, festering discontent threatens to undermine plans to hold a presidential election on May 25.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday threatened Russia with tougher economic sanctions if it fails to back down from its involvement in Ukraine.

“What we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary,” Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee .

Kerry called the demonstrations in eastern Ukraine as a “contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea.”

Addressing parliament in Kyiv, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said security forces retook control of the Kharkiv administration building early Tuesday but several police were injured in the clashes with separatists.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described the measure on his Facebook page as an “anti-terrorist operation.”

In a session briefly interrupted by a brawl, parliament also voted to toughen the punishment for undermining Ukraine’s national security, imposing jail terms of up to 5 years for separatism.

In Donetsk, there was little sign Tuesday evening that government forces had any immediate plan to retake the regional administration building. The city has seen weekly rallies marching on local government offices, but on Sunday groups of masked men carrying batons burst through police lines to take over the building.

By Tuesday, lines of car tires wrapped in razor wire had been erected to deter any possible attempts by police to storm the premises. The tactic appears to have been copied from the anti-government protests in the capital, Kyiv, which led to Yanukovych’s overthrow. Just like in Kyiv, food stations have been created inside the Donetsk building, supplied by volunteers and residents.

No clear leader or agenda has emerged from the obscure group of pro-Russian Donetsk activists behind the standoff.

A declaration adopted Monday claimed sovereignty for what they called the “Donetsk Republic” and demanded a referendum to be held no later than May 11. While none of them have said they necessarily want the region to join Russia, they have also declined to rule out the option.

Despite claims by the separatists groups to represent all of Donetsk, a region of more than 4 million people, rallies outside the regional building since the weekend have drawn crowds only in the low thousands.

The seizures of the buildings and calls for local votes on secession were an echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last month. After Yanukovych fled to Russia, Russian troops took control over Crimea and the region voted to join Russia in a hastily called referendum.

The West has not recognized the vote or the annexation and has retaliated with sanctions against Russia.

Even as the United States warned Russia of more sanctions if Moscow makes further efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the White House announced a high-level meeting among U.S., EU, Ukrainian and Russian diplomats in the coming days to try to solve the crisis.

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that the date and format of the four-way talks haven’t yet been agreed. He suggested that Ukraine’s presidential candidates could be invited to join the negotiations.

The Kremlin has pushed for a constitutional reform in Ukraine that would turn the country into a federation with broad powers for its regions and ensure its neutrality. The demands reflected Russia’s desire to maintain influence over its neighbour and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.

The new Ukrainian government says Russia has no business telling it what type of government to establish.

Just Posted

Fire investigators comb through industrial fire wreckage looking for answers

Industrial building in north Red Deer was completely gutted in Wednesday morning fire

Time for a central Albertan in cabinet, says chamber of commerce

Central Alberta had no cabinet ministers in last government

Trump Russia probe finally delivers some answers

WASHINGTON — After nearly two years of waiting, America is getting some… Continue reading

Trans Mountain Pipeline deadline extended

OTTAWA — The federal government is delaying a decision on the Trans… Continue reading

WATCH video of Innisfail resident creating the world’s biggest caricature

Watch as Innisfail resident Dean Foster creates the world’s biggest caricature of… Continue reading

Lower price discounts to boost Q1 oil profits but uncertainty hangs over sector

CALGARY — Lower discounts on western Canadian oil prices have swollen producer… Continue reading

Local Sports: Hard training pays off for Red Deer runner Jared Howse

Jared Howse understands success doesn’t come easily. The 17-year-old has put together… Continue reading

CRA’s automatic benefit registrations give retirees reason to file on time

TORONTO — This is the time of year when procrastinators begin to… Continue reading

Study: Genetic test predicts middle-aged obesity risk

NEW YORK — Can a genetic test identify newborns at risk of… Continue reading

Downtown Red Deer Co-op Plaza Food store closing

Central Alberta Co-op is closing its downtown Red Deer Plaza food store… Continue reading

Earth, meet Polo: Ralph Lauren unveils plastic bottle shirt

NEW YORK — Earth, meet Polo. Polo Ralph Lauren on Thursday launched… Continue reading

Statistics Canada reports retail sales rose 0.8 per cent in February

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says retail sales rose 0.8 per cent in… Continue reading

Inflation rises 1.9% on higher prices for fresh vegetables, mortgage costs

OTTAWA — Canada’s annual inflation was up last month as price pressures… Continue reading

Most Read