Despite Easter 'Truce,' Standoff In Ukraine Appears Steadfast

In the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the opposing camps seem increasingly entrenched, despite a diplomatic effort to ease tensions. Pro-Russian forces refuse to leave occupied buildings and public squares in the east. It's an uneasy Easter weekend and neither side is willing to budge.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. This week, diplomats from Ukraine, the European Union, Russia and the U.S. brokered an agreement calling on all illegally armed groups in Ukraine to disarm and to end their occupation of public spaces and buildings. The Ukrainian interim defense minister has also called for an Easter truce. Despite these efforts to calm tensions, pro-Europe camps in the west and separatists in the east don't appear to be stepping back. Eleanor Beardsley is in the city of Donetsk and sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: So we're on our way to the occupied buildings of Donetsk. Some people are calling this an occupied city by the secessionists, but it really doesn't feel like it. We're strolling along Pushkin Boulevard. It's really actually a pedestrian walkway that goes through the heart of the city. There's families out strolling, baby carriages, musicians, young people, cafes. It's absolutely a relaxed atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon.

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BEARDSLEY: But as we approach the occupied government building, the atmosphere changes. There's a wall of tires around the perimeter with signs saying: No fascist wanted here. There's also a display out front of photos and descriptions of the Nazi occupation of Kiev with a focus on the Ukrainians who collaborated with them. The exhibit is clearly trying to draw a comparison between pro-Europe occupiers of Maidan Square today and the Nazi collaborators of the past.

Forty-eight-year-old teacher Lubov Nesterienko says it's a shame that Europe and America aren't getting the truth about things.

LUBOV NESTERIENKO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Nesterienko says Kiev is full of nationalists and fascists and the current government is a band of criminals.

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BEARDSLEY: This gathering feels like a step back into history. Patriotic World War II ballads play over loudspeakers. Old men walk around wearing war medals.

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BEARDSLEY: Though Kiev's interim government offered concessions to the separatists on Friday proposing a plan that would give eastern regions more autonomy and the Russian language a special status, nobody here seems to believe them or care. People say they either want to become a separate country or a part of Russia, and it's not just the older crowd longing for a return to Soviet days. A group of young people handing out fliers wear bright red T-shirts marked USSR 2.0, suggesting a computer upgrade from the original version.

IHOR STRAVINSKY: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Group leader Ihor Stravinsky says they don't want to return to the past but a new modern version of the Soviet Union. We make our way to the barricaded entrance of the building where we meet a young militant, Artyom, who wears a facemask. He carries a bat in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.

ARTYOM: (Through translator) No. We're not going to leave the premises. And it doesn't matter what they do in Maidan, we won't vacate until there is a referendum of the independence of Donetsk province.

BEARDSLEY: As we leave the site we run into Yuri Nicolai Korachun who wears a large backpack and says he's been hitchhiking around his country. He's visited Kiev's Maidan Square and now seeing the protesters here, Korachun says he's not taking sides.

YURI NICOLAI KORACHUN: Two brothers, yeah, really.

BEARDSLEY: The protesters are like two brothers, he says, two faces of the same country. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Donetsk.

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