- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
As the standoff between Russia and Ukraine continues, supporters of both sides violently clashed in the eastern city of Donetsk late into the night on Thursday, March 13. In what resembled the front line of a battle, two rallies — one pro-Russian, one pro-Ukrainian — faced off with eggs, stun grenades, and firecrackers. According to the BBC, the violence was instigated by pro-Russian activists who attacked a pro-Ukrainian rally. Despite police efforts to cordon off the battling sides, the clashes left at least one person dead.
Meanwhile, thousands of Russian troops are gathering on the border with Ukraine, with the Kremlin apparently flexing its muscles before the referendum in Crimea this Sunday. The region’s residents are to decide whether they prefer to stay within Ukrainian borders, or join the Russian Federation.
Authorities from both Russia and Ukraine issued statements condemning the events in Donetsk, accusing each other of instigating the clashes.
Acting President of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov did not hold back. "Dreadful things happened in Donetsk yesterday evening. As a result mothers again have to bury their children. Hospitals are again full of injured. It is a terrible tragedy…. The most cynical thing is that the victims were Ukrainian citizens who came to the rally in their hometown to support the integrity of our country. This is the true face of double agents-separatists who provoked the fight. They and their masters in Kremlin are indifferent to the lives of people whom they supposedly were willing to defend. Every Ukrainian has to understand that," Turchynov said Friday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s (MFA) statement, translated by The Guardian, is a mirror image of Turchynov’s.
"Radical far-right gangs armed with traumatic firearms and clubs, who began to arrive in the city yesterday from other regions of the country, attacked peaceful protesters who came out on the streets to express their attitude toward the destructive position of the people who call themselves the Ukrainian government."
The MFA claimed that the government in Kiev had lost control of the country.
"Russia recognizes its responsibility for the lives of countrymen and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under its protection," the Foreign Ministry ominously warned.
Euromaidan PR, the information outlet of the Maidan opposition movement posted online raw footage featuring the violent melee.
Several buses and a cordon of riot police were unable to stop protesters from clashing.
Here, a group of pro-Ukrainian protesters, huddled together, are forced to kneel. Others are chanting "On your knees!"
What started with pro-Russia chants on one side, and waving Ukrainian flags on the other, ended in brutal beatings, shown here in a Vice News report.