Ukrainian city spinning out of control

2014-05-10 20:08
Fierce fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia protesters in Mariupol killed seven people. (Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP)

Fierce fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia protesters in Mariupol killed seven people. (Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Mariupol - Tossing his spanner to the ground, the man in a red beret and bomber jacket lowered himself into the captured armoured personnel carrier (APC) and began to turn and tilt its 50 mm gun.

Behind him, barricades of garbage bins and wooden pallets blocked every entrance to the central square of the eastern port city of Mariupol, after a day of gunfire and death that took Ukraine one step closer to civil war.

Mariupol has the stench of a city spiralling out of control, where burning tyres belch black smoke into the sky and a few women in motorcycle helmets cruise the downtown clutching metal bars.

Many residents will join other mainly Russian-speakers in Ukraine's industrial southeast on Sunday in voting in a chaotic referendum on self-rule, on breaking away from a government in Kiev that wants to take the country westward, away from Moscow.

Given the scene on Saturday in the city of half a million, a vital industrial hub, the result of the vote looks increasingly irrelevant. The fight for Mariupol has moved well beyond the ballot-box.

"We don't know what happened. We came here to find out, but they're not telling us anything," said Tatiana, sister of a police officer called Mikhail who was shot dead on Friday at a police station in a leafy neighbourhood of Mariupol.

What happened was a massive assault by Ukrainian troops on a police station they said had been taken over by pro-Russian militiamen.

Estimates of the death toll ranged from seven to more than 20. Dozens were wounded. The troops opened fire on the building from automatic rifles, APCs and rocket-propelled grenades, according to television pictures captured by an ITN cameraman.

Civilians were among those caught in the crossfire. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said those killed were "terrorists". The police chief was reported abducted.

APCs sped through the city, after retreating troops fired into the air to escape an advancing crowd. One APC broke down and was abandoned by the soldiers. It was set alight by pro-Russians on Saturday, a man standing on the carcass brandishing a bullet.

Someone could get shot

"The last time the tanks were here it was '43," he shouted, referring to Nazi Germany's occupation of Mariupol. "Now they're coming back, sent by that junta!"

On Saturday, police officers in civilian clothes hastily removed their uniforms from the back of the smouldering police station, throwing them into the boot of a car and driving off.

"I don't know who did the shooting," said one, who refused to be named.

A man who identified himself as a commander at the station told a reporter: "I could talk to you, but someone will get shot."

Police in Ukraine's Donetsk steel and coal belt have largely stood to one side in the fight for control of the region, where gunmen seized public buildings in response to the February ousting of Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich in an East-West struggle for the soul of Ukraine.

The new government in Kiev, which blames the uprising on Moscow, says the future of Ukraine's 45 million people is in Europe, but many in the east refuse to break historical ties with Russia, and are harking back to World War Two in branding the government 'fascist'.

The army, however, has not given up Mariupol, clashing almost daily over the past few days with pro-Russian militants who were driven out of City Hall on Thursday, the building set ablaze on Friday.

The city is the Donetsk region's second biggest. How the pro-Russians will conduct Sunday's referendum here is not clear.

A sham

The plebiscite is shaping up to be a sham. No outside observers have been invited. The ballot papers are little more than black-and-white printed pages that could be duplicated, and no minimum turnout has been set for the result to stand.

Voters will be asked to endorse an ambiguously phrased status that could be interpreted as anything from "self-rule" to "independence". Some hope they will be annexed by Russia, like their brethren in the Crimean peninsula in March.

National Guard troops backed by soldiers in four APCs checked cars entering and leaving the city on Saturday, on a route the ballot papers should take to the separatist electoral authorities in the regional capital Donetsk after voting ends at 22:00 (19:00 GMT) on Sunday.

The result will bring no resolution.

"Kiev won't consider the referendum legitimate," said a pro-Russian activist who gave his name as Slavik, "but they also came to power illegitimately."

Asked where the vote was being organised in the city, he replied: "It's a secret, it's confidential. It's too dangerous."

Read more on:    ukraine
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

The craziest deaths of 2014
How to make this a sensual, sexy summer!
This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!
This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.