Defiant Of Deadline, Pro-Moscow Occupiers Persist

Pro-Moscow militants have taken over more government buildings in eastern Ukraine, ignoring a government deadline for them to lay down their weapons. The Ukrainian army may enter to retake the region.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. In eastern Ukraine, people are bracing for possible war. The government gave a deadline of this morning for pro-Russian separatists to lay down their weapons. Instead, the demonstrators took over still more government buildings in eastern Ukrainian cities. Ukraine's president has promised to send in the army to retake this region near the Russian border.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from the city of Donetsk.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This building was the scene of a massive demonstration on Sunday. More than 1,000 people marched outside the regional police headquarters in Donetsk.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

SHAPIRO: They demanded that the police chief step down and he did. Today the place looks completely different. There are no barricades. Employees smoke cigarettes at the front entrance. It seems like a typical work day with people coming and going from the police station. Nadia(ph) is a teacher who came here to take care of some routine business. She brushes off talk of war.

NADIA: (Through interpreter) Who needs the army? What's actually happening is 100 armed people are proclaiming a new republic. It's not the one million people who live in Donetsk.

SHAPIRO: Just inside the police headquarters, though, the shield of the Ukrainian police force has been covered up by a flag proclaiming the independent Donetsk Republic. This building may not be barricaded, but it bears the protesters' mark of ownership. And the relative peace in Donetsk is the exception. Many cities are in upheaval today. Tatyana Bondariyenko(ph) is from the nearby town of Kramatorsk.

TATYANA BONDARIYENKO: (Through interpreter) It's not peaceful in our town.

SHAPIRO: Tell me what it's like in your city.

BONDARIYENKO: (Through interpreter) The Kramatorsk police department is barricaded and there are separatists inside.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that they are locals or do you think that they come from someplace else?

BONDARIYENKO: (Through interpreter) They're not locals. I think that these are Russian people.

SHAPIRO: What makes you say that?

BONDARIYENKO: (Through interpreter) I live in the city and I have relatives who went there. And they said the protesters have accents and they can't find their way around.

SHAPIRO: This video shows gunfire in the city of Kramatorsk as protesters took over the building yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND GUNFIRE)

SHAPIRO: And the militants keep expanding their footprints. In the town of Horlivka, armed men took over the mayor's office today. In this video posted on YouTube, a new commander introduces himself to the police, who stand at attention.

Hello, comrades, he says. What's your rank, asks one of the cops. Lieutenant Colonel, he replies. Of what? The Russian Army, he says. Though Russia's role is becoming more apparent here, many Ukrainian locals see the Russians as allies, not instigators. They don't trust Ukraine's new government in Kiev and would prefer to be closer with Moscow. A man who gives his name as Alexei is attending the demonstration in Donetsk with his baby in a stroller.

ALEXEI: (Though interpreter) Maybe some might be from Russia, but just a minority, not a significant number. Most people here are locals.

SHAPIRO: Would you like to see Russia send reinforcements, send troops to help the protesters?

ALEXEI: (Through interpreter) If the junta in Kiev sends troops here to suppress the uprising in this war, I don't mind Russia helping us.

SHAPIRO: Already some locals have shown themselves to be enthusiastic participants in the conflict. In the city of Slavyansk yesterday, protesters and Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire. People on both sides were killed. One of the roadblocks into the city was guarded by a human shield of babushkas, little old ladies wearing headscarves. Sitting at a protest in Donetsk, Lydia Constantinovna(ph) sports a shining set of gold teeth.

She says she's ready to give her life for this cause.

LYDIA CONSTANTINOVNA: (Through interpreter) My husband and I are pensioners. We have lived our lives already. I'm 70 years old and he's almost 80. We have decided we will die here as our parents did.

SHAPIRO: If that happens, the image of Ukrainian troops shooting their fellow citizens could be inflammatory. Some Ukrainians fear that Russian tanks just over the border are waiting for exactly that kind of provocation to intervene. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Donetsk.

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