Tensions in the Russian-speaking region of Ukraine continued to escalate Saturday when dozens of armed pro-Russian Ukrainians took over the police stations in the eastern towns of Donetsk and Slaviansk.
In Donetsk, where protesters have occupied a government building for nearly a week, protesters reportedly met "no resistance."
AFP reports that "a bus filled with a few dozen anti-riot police who quickly arrived at the scene were seen sporting orange and black ribbons, symbolising support for Russian rule."
Communities in eastern Ukraine, home to a large Russian-speaking population, have seen an uptick in protests since residents of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea voted to join Russia following the ouster of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych.
As one of the protesters in Slaviansk told the Associated Press, they have ‘‘only one demand: a referendum and joining Russia.’’
‘‘We don’t want to be slaves of America and the West,’’ he continued. ‘‘We want to live with Russia.’’
The Kiev authorities along with the United States have accused Russia of fomenting the unrest in the east, "seeking to use it as a pretext for sending in troops," AP reports. However, Slaviansk Mayor Nelya Shtepa confirmed to AP that the protesters were local residents, not Russians.
France 24 correspondent Gulliver Cragg reports that, although some of the motivations for the protests in eastern Ukraine are unfounded—such as reports that Kiev wants to ban the Russian language—they do have "some more legitimate worries, [...] such as the threat to the economy to this region if IMF loans are imposed."
On Friday, western media outlets circulated satellite images released by NATO reportedly showing Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border.
The unrest comes ahead of scheduled talks next week between the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine.