Fear of Nationwide Turmoil in Ukraine Mounts as Unrest Spreads

Violent unrest in Ukraine’s capital has spread to other cities in the former Soviet nation, highlighting geographical divisions and raising fears that civil conflict could spin out of control.

KIEV, February 19 (RIA Novosti) – Violent unrest in Ukraine’s capital has spread to other cities in the former Soviet nation, highlighting geographical divisions and raising fears that civil conflict could spin out of control.

Reported disturbances were concentrated in the major cities of the country’s west, the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, where there is strong backing for anti-government protesters in Kiev, but it also spread to the east where President Viktor Yanukovych draws his support.

In the Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the country’s border with Poland, mobs reportedly seized administrative buildings and set fire to a military base.

“Go out and use your weapons to protect people – your family, your neighbors, your friends,” Lviv Mayor Andrei Sadovy wrote in a Facebook post addressed to security services Wednesday, the UNIAN news agency reported.

“Be aware that a little aggression on your side against the people with be met with a stronger response. It will be impossible to stop,” he wrote.

Ukraine is deeply divided between its east, where much of the country’s industry is concentrated and people have closer ties with Russia, and the west, which is more orientated toward Europe and where people favor Ukrainian ahead of the Russian language made compulsory in Soviet times.

Violence rippled out in all directions, to both the east and west of the country, overnight from the capital Kiev where protesters and police are locked in a deadly confrontation that has claimed at least 25 lives.

As well as Lviv, the occupation of government buildings by anti-government activists and confrontations with police were reported Wednesday in the western cities of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk, Rovno and Ternopil.

In Ternopil, about 300 activists stormed the regional administration building and set fire to a local police precinct, torching police vehicles and forcing officers exiting from police buildings to kneel in the streets, UNIAN reported.

Activists in west Ukraine have provided strong logistical support and manpower for the protests in central Kiev, which began in November after the government unexpectedly backed off from long-planned agreements to cement closer ties with the European Union. That deal was suspended in favor of forging closer ties with Russia, which has since committed to granting billions of dollars in loans to Ukraine.

The fighting in Kiev has also inspired violence in the country’s east, where Yanukovych was born and where he enjoys his highest levels of support.

The offices of the Batkivshchyna and Svoboda political parties, which have played a key role in organizing the ongoing protests in Kiev, were reportedly attacked with Molotov cocktails overnight by unidentified assailants in the Crimean city of Cherson.

The office of Svoboda, the most overtly nationalist of Ukraine’s mainstream opposition parties, was firebombed in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian television channel 24 reported, citing local party members.

Despite strong backing for the ruling Party of the Regions and Yanukovych in eastern Ukraine, pro-government demonstrations have been sporadic and facilitated by strong logistical from the authorities.

The Higher Council of the Crimea, a southern region of the country on the Black Sea with historical Russian ties, issued a statement Wednesday calling on Yanukovych to take decisive steps to bring the situation under control, UNIAN reported.

“We demand that you, as head of state, take concerted action and extreme measures. This is expected by hundreds of thousands of people in the Crimea that voted for you in the presidential elections and who hope for stability,” the regional body said, according to UNIAN.

With the Kiev metro system shut and entry into the capital city restricted, communication links in other parts of the country also appeared to be breaking down.

Anti-government activists blocked the Krakovets border crossing between Ukraine and Poland overnight, lighting fires from piles of tires, UNIAN reported. 

Trains between Lviv and Kiev and Ivano-Frankivsk and Kiev were delayed Wednesday morning after reports of explosive material being carried on board, Russian media reported.

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