MOSCOW, March 1 (RIA Novosti) – Clashes broke out Saturday during at least one of a series of pro-Russian demonstrations across eastern Ukraine, where resistance remains strong against the interim government that has taken hold in the capital, Kiev.
Crowds at the rallies called for intervention from Russia, whose parliament has already given the go-ahead for possible armed intervention in Ukraine.
Attendance at a rally in Kharkhiv, a city of 1.5 million people, was estimtated by Russian state television at about 10,000. More than 100 people were injured at that gathering as protesters overcame resistance from pro-government activists to storm the regional administration building, according to the local UNIAN news agency.
Footage from the scene showed protesters milling with riot police in the trashed building. Many protesters were shown with light injuries, including bloodied heads.
Pro-Russian demonstrations have become a frequent occurrence in the predominantly Russian-speaking east and south of the country in recent days following the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych that swept the opposition to power. Protesters say they are alarmed by nationalist rhetoric now emanating from Kiev.
The gatherings have highlighted the linguistic and ethnic divides in Ukraine, but a real specter of partition has risen in recent days as Russia has moved troops into the southern Crimea Peninsula amid increasingly bellicose language from the Kremlin. Russian officials have said repeatedly that they must respond to perceived threats against the lives of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.
Russian flags were reportedly raised Saturday over local government buildings in cities across eastern Ukraine, including Kharkhiv, Donetsk, Odessa, Mariupol and Dnieperpetrovsk.
Thousands of people gathered in the industrial city of Donetsk near the border with Russia, expressing their support for Ukrainian riot police who confronted protesters in Kiev and calling on Russia to intervene in Ukraine.
The line-up of speakers was reportedly hijacked by pro-Russian groups who adopted an increasingly militant line as the afternoon wore on.