Infighting rocked pro-Russian separatists who’ve declared Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region independent, with heavily armed gunmen seizing the movement’s headquarters and kicking out its leaders.
The Vostok battalion of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic seized the regional administration building, clearing away makeshift barriers and checkpoints. They arrested several members of the movement whom they accused of looting in the regional capital, also called Donetsk.
“We’ve begun a cleanup of our ranks -- we want to stop looting so this doesn’t happen any more,” Alexander Maltsev, a spokesman for separatist leader Denis Pushilin, said today by phone from Donetsk. “We detained 12 people yesterday and set up checkpoints around the city.”
Ukraine is battling to keep hold of its easternmost regions, with separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk seeking to break away and join Russia after a pro-European cabinet took charge in Kiev. Dozens of rebels were killed in clashes this week and an army helicopter was downed, causing 14 deaths. Ukraine says the unrest is being stoked by Russia, which denies the accusation.
The allegiance of the Vostok fighters is unclear, with Ukraine complaining of an increasing number of foreign militants arriving in Donetsk and Luhansk to battle government troops. The border service said several truckloads of people broke through into Ukraine this week, while Russian citizens were among the dead at a May 26 shootout in Donetsk’s airport.
Gunmen are traveling from the Caucasus region, according to the Defense Ministry.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko has pledged a rapid military response to the eastern violence, which erupted after Russian leader Vladimir Putin signed an order to annex Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula in March.