Donetsk view: Ukraine 'other half' resents Kiev protests

Protesters in Donetsk set fire to a picture of President Yanukovych

While big protests against the Ukrainian government continue in Kiev and other cities, there are large parts of the country where the government has more support, and where people do not share the goal of closer integration with Europe.

Donetsk is Ukraine's industrial heart and the powerbase of President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of the Regions. Yet it was here, during a rally on Sunday, that protesters publicly burned a portrait of the president.

About 300 people took part in the rally, under Ukrainian and EU flags, to protest against the use of force by riot police in the capital, Kiev.

Pro-European sentiments in Donetsk, while not nearly as strong as in Kiev or cities in the west of Ukraine, were nonetheless stirred by images of protesters being beaten.

Supporters of the Ukrainian opposition carried banners accusing Mr Yanukovych of personally ordering violence against the demonstrators - mostly striking students.

Start Quote

People don't want closer ties with the EU - they want a referendum, so that everybody has their say”

End Quote Vira Rudneva Local Communist chairman

The slogans included "The blood of innocent children is on Yanukovych's hands", "Stop terror" and "Away with the gang" - a derogatory term often used for the government.

"Citizens have a right to peaceful protests, and to have specially trained people beat them up with batons is nothing short of a crime," said Olexiy Mukoriz, a former criminal investigator attending the demonstration.

But if you try to gauge the opinion of the so-called "silent majority" in Donetsk, you will be hard pressed to find anyone willing to say openly that they supported the public protests in Kiev.

Steve Rosenberg compares western and eastern Ukraine

'No strikes here'

A quick poll of passers-by showed that a majority resented any disturbances and disruptions of public order, as seen in footage from Kiev. People in Donetsk blame opposition parties for using hot-headed students as a means to destabilise the country.

BBC map

Lyudmila, a housewife, said that "before joining any international organisations, Ukraine should first develop our own economy. Look at our poor pensioners surviving on the breadline. I am against joining the EU".

Despite the opposition's best efforts to turn the public dissatisfaction with the authorities into anti-government protests, most of Donetsk's inhabitants remain unconvinced that Ukraine's future lies in Europe.

After all, local industries are hugely dependent on Russian supplies and markets, with Russia itself closer than the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

Just days before the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, where President Yanukovych made clear he would not sign Ukraine up to an association agreement with the EU, Communists in Donetsk held a rally - replete with the red flags of the now defunct Soviet Union - calling on the government to hold a national referendum on agreement.

Communist protesters in Donetsk Communist protesters favour a union with Russia and Kazakhstan

The Communist rally was held by the statue of Lenin. It gathered no more that 200 mostly elderly supporters who chanted: "The union of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is inevitable."

"People don't want closer ties with the EU. They want a referendum, so that everybody has their say," said Vira Rudneva, chair of the Makiyivka Communist organisation.

"The customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is great. If we were to join Europe now, all our factories would be turned into scrap."

With translation and editing by Irena Taranyuk, BBC Ukrainian

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