THE KIEV authorities' hold on Donbas and much of the wider region of eastern Ukraine has disappeared. President Oleksandr Turchynov had said that a military operation was imminent and that anyone who left the seized buildings by 6.00 am on April 14th would not be prosecuted.
But by nightfall, as fog covered the Donbas, it was clear that no concerted government action to take back the region was under way. The region’s police appear to have defected en masse to the pro-Russian side. Police buildings in the town of Sloviansk and Kramatorskfell to armed men on April 12thand there were reports of other municipal buildings being taken elsewhere. A Ukrainian security services operation to restore authority in Sloviansk failed. Military or police helicopters flew over town and unconfirmed sources said crowds prevented them from landing.
Along the highway leading from the regional capital Donetsk barricades have gone up, manned by men wielding clubs and metal batons. Some are armed. At the entrance to Sloviansk bigger ones have been erected. In nearby Kramatorsk, small groups of men stood by the police station and nearby barricades.
On the morning of April 13th Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, announced that a fight-back for the east of the country was beginning. A few hours later film was circulating of stalled armoured personal carriers, a slumped man who appeared dead and another one on the ground apparently wounded. Mr Avakov said that one had died and five had been wounded in the shootout.
Another film showed a group of well-organised men in military uniform storming the police station in Kramatorsk. They are seen to be followed by men in civilian clothes. On April 13tha few dozen unarmed men were manning new barricades by the police station. The military unit seen in the film were no longer in evidence having possibly moved elsewhere. Ukrainian officials say they are troops from Russia.
Earlier in the day, at the barricade leading into Sloviansk, the first line of defence was a group of old ladies holding icons and saying they wanted nothing but peace. Behind them was a tyre barricade. On the side Molotov cocktails were being prepared. Behind this were men with clubs, who appeared to listen to orders being given by two uniformed armed men.
Russian flags and those of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic were flying at all the barricades and seized buildings. But what people want is unclear. Some say they want more autonomy, some want a federal Ukraine and some want to be incorporated by Russia. In Sloviansk small groups in front of the barricades by the seized police station chanted: “Donbas rise up!”
Many people railed against their low quality of life. They shouted that they worked hard while western Ukrainians were lazy and had to be subsidised by them. No one who supported the Ukrainian government was in evidence. On the outskirts of Kramatorsk Dimitry Padushkin was quarreling with a small group of men sent to stand at the entrance of a decrepit and non-functioning municipal airport that he said he owned.
Away from the group, who said they had been posted there to see that no Ukrainian forces landed, Mr Padushkin said that local pro-Ukrainians were frightened. “Of course there will be conflict,” he said, and for Russia, “this region will not be enough. They want everything. They will take all Ukraine.”