Donetsk: Demonstration in Support of Ukrainian Unity Attacked by “Russian Activist” Thugs

In Crimea and east Ukraine many of the “pro-Russian” groups on the streets seem to consist of gangs of violent thugs along the lines of the old “Black Hundreds” proto-fascist anti-Semitic hoodlums in the last years of the Tsarist regime.

The government press agency of Donetsk province (oblast’) reports that”at first ten to twenty big men(pro-Russian) surrounded a demonstration (on Donetsk’s Lenin Square) … in favor of Ukrainian unity … A brawl began (it appears that more pro-Russians had arrived by this time).  The pro-Russian activists threw smoke bombs and released gas (tear gas? – ML) ”  The “activists” beat the demonstrators  with clubs, ripping Ukrainian flags out of their hands and tearing and stomping them.  Individuals were pursued and severely beaten as they fled.  Members of the “Miner” (Shakter) soccer club intervened to defend the demonstrators, as did police.  “Activists” attacked the police, a police van, and an ambulance carrying wounded demonstrators.

(Donetsk, in east Ukraine, is in a coal-mining region, hence the name of the soccer club.)

So there is street-fighting in Donetsk.  The pro-Ukrainians are not completely helpless, as it appears that the soccer fan club, which may have a parmilitary organization or something like a martial arts club, intervened on their side. However, the pro-Russians seem to be well-organized and dispose of equipment that suggests outside support — the smoke grenades and gas.   On the other hand, the police are apparently still loyal to the Ukrainian government and intervened to defend the demonstration.  Contrary to my earlier sense, the Ukrainian government does appear to be defending itself in the east.

The Russian tactics seem to be violent intimidation of opposition by mobs of supposed “simple people,” with the fighting kept just below the level of firearms.  It is hard to say whether Putin’s people are aiming for east Ukraine or parts thereof to “secede” from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, or if they aim simply to develop a strong position in preparation for negotiations with Kiev and/or forthcoming elections.  The level of violence might actually suggest the former.  At any rate, control of east Ukraine will probably be determined not by an all-out Russian invasion, but by hundreds of low-level confrontations of the sort described above — by relentless pressure just short of use of firearms such as we have seen in Crimea.  One thing to watch carefully is whether the police continue to defend pro-Ukrainian demonstrations and government buildings.

Also worth noting that the Ukrainian nationalists in the west have their own street-fighting thugs, who played a significant role in the Maidan demonstrations that overthrew Yanukovych’s government (not that all or even the majority of the Maidan demonstrators were such).

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