Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine hold more than a dozen towns

AFP , Wednesday 30 Apr 2014

Pro-Kremlin rebels who much of the West believe are backed by Moscow are holding more than a dozen towns and cities in east Ukraine.

The epicentre of rebel activity and the scene of much of the reported violence and abductions. On 12 April, pro-Russian gunmen seized the police building in this town of an estimated 120,000 to 140,000 people, raiding its arsenal. They then took over the town hall and the SBU security services building the same day.

This city of one million people is the hub of the Donetsk region, which includes Slavyansk, and is the heart of what rebels call their "Donetsk Republic". The regional administrative building was seized April 6 and the city hall on 16 April.

This city of 465,000 inhabitants, which is also the regional heart of the Lugansk region, is proclaiming itself the core of a self-styled "Lugansk Republic". Its SBU security services building was grabbed on April 6 by some 1,000 pro-Russian protesters. On 29 April, a crowd of hundreds, with gunmen leading, took over the regional administrative building, prosecutor's office and local television station. They laid siege to regional police headquarters but withdrew when the police chief agreed to resign.

Just next to Slavyansk and 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Donetsk, this town of 160,000 inhabitants saw its town hall taken over on 12 April during a rally by more than 1,000 pro-Russian demonstrators. On April 15, a bomb alert that turned out to be false cleared the building, but militants took over the nearby SBU building. On 21 April, pro-Russian militants forcibly took back the town hall. A Ukraine military base lies outside the town and has fended off several attacks.

In a rare victory for Ukraine's security forces, the southeastern port city of Mariupol, population 480,000, was taken back from pro-Moscow rebels on 25 April. But while police now control the town hall, a few pro-Russian protesters remain in the building and have not been cleared out.

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