Ukraine crisis: Witnesses to Mariupol violence

The BBC's James Reynolds recorded his day as he and a BBC team covered events in eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine may be the focus of the most dangerous argument between the West and Russia since the Cold War. But the normal rules of life are still enforced. People here still need to get to work on time. Drivers have to respect speed limits. At 08:00 in Donetsk, commuters began their journeys.

"The cost of living is already soaring, petrol is very expensive. It is impossible to buy anything because of the prices," says Yelena. "I want them to decide on a referendum and I want Russia to help us. The new government of President Turchynov and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk should not interfere here."

"I want Russia to help us because at the moment it's not like we are living in eastern Ukraine," says Larissa, "We only have hope in Russia. Do you understand in the West? You don't understand us. There are fascists in Kiev. How can the West not see that?"

"There won't be any solution," says Andreiy, "Whichever group comes to power, they are all the same."

On the highway south to the Black Sea port of Mariupol, traffic police (some in need of extra large uniforms) made sure that speed limits were obeyed.

Sergei Shevchenko "I hope that the Russian army will come here and stop the shooting of peaceful citizens"

In the morning, a small crowd had gathered at the gates of the interior ministry compound attacked at night by a pro-Russian crowd. One official inspected a bashed-up jeep, fastidiously noting down on a clipboard every piece of broken glass and every dented bumper. Ukraine's ability to defend itself from attack may be in doubt. But its bureaucracy appears to be working well.

Start Quote

I was so frightened. You can't imagine what it is like to see gunfire for the first time in your life.”

End Quote Valentina

Local residents are still recovering from the five-hour fight.

"They started to throw grenades, petrol bombs, there was automatic gunfire," says Valentina, who lives nearby. "I was so frightened. You can't imagine what it is like to see gunfire for the first time in your life. It was absolutely terrifying."

The attempted raid doesn't appear to have been particularly well thought through. The crowd started to gather at 20:00 local time, while Ukrainian forces inside the compound were awake and on guard. The assailants then chose to attack the well-defended front gate - apparently ignoring an easily scalable nearby wall guarded only by rusty barbed wire. Still, the assault gave the Ukrainian guards a scare.

"They took control of the entrance to the military base," Major Alexander Kalinichenko told reporters. "You can see where they threw petrol bombs. They pushed away the vehicles which were blocking the entrance to stop demonstrators getting inside. Then we fired warning shots into the air to stop aggressive protestors. They were just warning shots."

The interior ministry says that several of the pro-Russian crowd were killed or injured. In a nearby hospital, Sergei Shevchenko, a 40-year-old furniture maker, is recovering from a stomach wound. Four bored-looking police officers guard his room from the corridor. They rouse themselves when a pregnant woman in a next-door ward briefly starts screaming. Inside the room, Mr Shevchenko inspects his bandages.

"I hope that the Russian army will come here and stop the shooting of peaceful citizens and help us to restore order so that we can organise the referendum for the independence of the Donetsk region," he says.

Mr Shevchenko complains that he has received no visitors. It's a difficult claim to take at face value, given the fact that we witness friends of his going into his room without restriction. In this hospital, even for suspected assailants, there appear to be no formal visiting hours. Some normal rules, it seems, can be waived.

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