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Armed, pro-Russian separatists lay siege to Donetsk Oblast; at least three dead (VIDEOS, UPDATES)

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April 14, 2014, 12:40 p.m. | Ukraine — by Kyiv Post

A man walks past a roadside checkpoint at the entrance to Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast, controlled by pro-Russian separatists, as tires and trees are being burnt to make a smoke curtain.
© Anastasia Vlasova

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Amid reports of casualties on both sides as Ukrainian forces battle pro-Russian militias in Sloviansk, other heavily armed separatists in military uniforms continued to seize or attempt to take over other Ukrainian government buildings or strategic locations in Donetsk Oblast, home to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and 10 percent of Ukraine's population.

At least three men were killed.

One of the deaths came during clashes between Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian separatists, violence that also injured several other people, on the outskirts of Sloviansk. The dead man was a Ukrainian security service officer fired on by one of the separatists, Ukrainian authorities said. In a separate incident, two men were gunned down in their car in the Slaviansk city center. 

Here's what we know about six cities in Donetsk Oblast where pro-Russian militants took over government buildings:

Donetsk

Pro-Russian separatists control the oblast government center and the oblast Interior Ministry. There was  little visible presence of Ukrainian police or military in Donetsk and repeated attempts to reach people working for Donetsk Oblast governor Serhiy Taruta today were unsuccessful.

A masked pro-Russian activist carries a shield as he walks past posters bearing the flag of the "Donetsk People's Republic" in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 13, 2014. Kiev said on April 13 that several had been left "dead and wounded" in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive east in the city of Slavyansk, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY

Mariupol

In Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast's second largest city, Novosti Donbassa reported that several hundred separatists seized the local city administration building, citing eyewitnesses. The seizure occurred during a rally of demonstrators who favor secession from Ukraine and formation of the independent People's Republic of Donetsk.

According to http://www.0629.com.ua, Mariupol city news website, and  Novost.dn.ua, a regional news website, around 1,000 local separatists have seized the city council building in Mariupol. Here are their combined reports:

As separatists stormed the building, Ukrainian flags were taken down and the Russian flag and the flag of so-called Donetsk Republic were put up instead. A police cordon had to step back afar getting pushed backed by the crowd. Unidentified people in masks stormed the building, broke the windows and got inside.

A huge barricade is being built in front of the building. Protesters use everything they can find to build the barricade – men take concrete slabs from the sidewalk, others bring furniture from the administration building.

Police forces did not do anything.  As the barricade was being finished, women protected the entrance. Meanwhile, new people’s deputies were being selected from the crowd. A huge poster over the building’s central entrance reads “People’s Republic of Donetsk.” Rally participants want help from Russia.

Later in the afternoon, unidentified people approached the building and said "fascism won't make it through" and broke out windows. While protesters moved away from  city administration building in Mariupol, only some 100 stayed.

Warning: This is a graphic video, purportedly of one of the men shot to death in clashes near Donetsk Oblast's Sloviansk between Ukrainian police or military forces and armed pro-Russian separatists. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has confirmed the murder of at least one Ukrainian special service officer and said casualties have come on both sides of the conflict.

Sloviansk

Armed pro-Russian separatists still held the police headquarters and local Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) headquarters in Sloviansk. They also controlled the city's entrances through roadside checkpoints on roads leading from major cities. Separatists burn trees and tires on the roads to make the smoke curtain designed to make the city more difficult to attack.

Separatists inside were talking with journalists, and one claimed to the Kyiv Post that numerous casualties took place in a battle between Ukrainian police and pro-Russian separatists outside the city, possibly at one of the roadside checkpoints. But that information could not be confirmed.

Interior Ministry Arsen Avakov said that one Ukrainian state security officer was killed and five others were wounded on the side of government forces in an "anti-terrorist" operation in Sloviansk, but the separatists told the Kyiv Post that the confrontation did not take place in the city or at the police station. 

Ukrainian military helicopters were flying over the area. The separatists are protected by some 1,000 pro-Russian demonstrators and roadside checkpoints. 

Two people shot dead in a car in the center of the city. A young passerby was seriously wounded and brought to the hospital. According to LB.ua, the unidentified assailant was dressed in civilian clothes. He first started shooting at the car and then shot people inside, LB.ua writes. Bodies were taken away shortly after the incident and then a group of armed people came to disperse people who gathered around the car, LB.ua correspondent Maks Levin wrote on his Facebook page. A bank card and a journalist identification of Andriy Meshcheryakov, a blue cap and some other documents have been found in the car though it is not yet clear whether this things did belong to one of the slain persons Slavgorod local news website reported.

Pro-Russia activists assist an Orthodox priest walk through a barricade outside the regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Kiev said on April 13 that several had been left "dead and wounded" in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive eastern city of Slavyansk, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV

Yenakievo

Pro-Russian separatists were holding rallies, but thus far only the local city administration building has been seized, according to the Kyiv Post journalist on the scene. The mayor of Yenakievo came to the city council building and wavered on which side that he is on when questioned by the Kyiv Post. The Donetsk Republic separatist flag is flying over the administration headquarters.

Makiyievka

Pro-Russian separatists took over the city administration building in Donetsk Oblast city of 350,000 people near Donetsk Oblast. Armed, masked men guarded the entrance and one of the insurgents said that the goals of the group are the same as everywhere else in the oblast: a referendum on autonomy of the People's Republic of Donetsk from the rest of Ukraine and possibly joining Russia.

Kramatorsk

After a shootout, pro-Russian armed separatists seized the police station and reportedly also have control for the local city administration building and the local airport.

A 5 minute, 46 second video shows the storming of the police station in Kramatorsk, a Donetsk Oblast city, by pro-Russian men in military uniforms with automatic rifles.

To some, video in Kramatorsk proves involvement of Russian military 

People are closely studying the video of the pro-Russian raid on the Kramatorsk police station, looking for clues of Russian military or special forces involvement -- and finding it.

Adrian Karatnycky, a Ukrainian analyst who writes frequent commentaries on events in Ukraine, reached these conclusions after watching the video: "First, organized (Russian) spetsnaz teams enter-- guns blazing. They are followed by organized bands of less well armed 'titushky' and these are followed by local protesters -- mainly poor, some ideological-- (many of whom are reportedly encouraged with payments of $50 for participation in protests. Phase one and two of such a takeover is chillingly recorded in this video. This is a planned, military and paramilitary operation. In the video, it is clear that they were transported into Kramatorsk from outside."

Here's some of the dialogue that creates suspicion of Russian involvement:

Police and other men ask the unformed soldiers: "Where are you from guys?"

The answer came: "The headquarters is taken over by Afghan veterans! By the Afghan Veterans of Kramatorsk city. Guys, we are for the Donetsk Republic! We want it, just as u do guys, we are Afghan veterans. We control the situation here. Come on!" Then shooting in the air begins as the group advances, enters and armed militants guard the entrance.

Militants shout "step back!" and someone replies, "Hey we are with you, we've come with Slava (a with very Russian pronunciation).

The militants reply: "Fine but step back now!! Stay behind the curb." The world "curb" is very Russian, observers have noted, not used often in Ukraine.

A map of Donetsk Oblast, the most populous region in Ukraine with more than four million residents.

Zaporyzhia

According to Hromadske TV's live stream camera operator Taras Bilka: Ukrainian authorities are trying to set up checkpoints to stop the travel of pro-Russian separatist groups in Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia oblasts. Thousands of pro-Ukrainians gathered on Zaporizhia's central square to support Ukraine. A rival rally of pro-Russian activists was also being held there. Ukrainian supporters surrounded the smaller group of pro-Russian protesters. The two sides were being separated by police. Buses were expected to take the pro-Russian protesters away. More people from the pro-Ukrainian side came and shouted "shame on you" and "glory to Ukraine."

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.

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