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Both sides bury dead as Ukraine slides towards war

Putin Blames West for Odessa Carnage, Ukraine Warns: 'It's a War'



(Reuters) - Both sides have been burying their dead as Ukraine slides further towards war, with supporters of Russia and of a united Ukraine accusing each other of tearing the country apart.

Tuesday was generally quieter than past days in most of eastern and southern Ukraine, but violence flared at dusk in the eastern port of Mariupol, where a spokesman for pro-Moscow militants told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency that one person was killed and three wounded in an attack on a checkpoint.

In Kramatorsk, a separatist-held town in the east that saw an advance by Ukrainian troops at the weekend, the coffin of 21-year-old nurse Yulia Izotova was carried through streets stilled by barricades of tires and tree trunks on Monday. Scattered red carnations traced the route.

At the Holy Trinity Church, seven priests led mourners in prayer for a woman killed by large caliber bullets, which the townsfolk believe were fired by Ukrainian troops.

"They shoot at us. Why? Because we don't want to live with fascists?" asked 58-year-old passport photographer Sergei Fominsky, standing with his wife among the mourners. "We're not slaves. We kneel to no one."

In Odessa, a previously peaceful, multi-ethnic Black Sea port where more than 40 people were killed on Friday in the worst day of violence since a February revolt toppled Ukraine's pro-Russian president, pall-bearers carried Andrey Biryukov's open casket from a van to the street corner where he was shot.

A pro-Ukrainian activist, Biryukov, 35, was killed during a day that began with hundreds of pro-Russian sympathizers armed with axes, chains and guns attacking a Ukrainian march, and ended later that night with the pro-Russians barricaded inside a building that was set on fire, killing dozens.

A small crowd of about 50 people stood around the body, covering it with carnations and roses. A Ukrainian flag fluttered in the wind, and a patriotic song about dead heroes was played from a sound system.

Relatives wept and a young woman fell on her knees crying loudly. The corner where the man died was decorated with flowers and small Ukrainian flags.

"The government has failed to protect its own people. The police have failed miserably," said Nikita, a grizzled 56-year-old with a Ukrainian yellow and blue arm-band.

Sergei, in his 40s, who also came to mourn, said violence "was imported to Odessa".

"We were proud of Odessa as a unique place where people used to live in peace, regardless of their beliefs and religion and race," he said. "Now this is all gone."

In Mariupol, the main port for the eastern coal and steel region of the Donbass, pro-Moscow militants told Russian news agencies that one of their checkpoints on the outskirts was attacked late on Tuesday - by Ukrainian forces or by pro-Kiev militia - and they were preparing to repel further assaults.

Local Web site 0629.com.ua posted pictures of tires blazing outside the city council building and thick smoke pouring over the town center. Some streets were barricaded by buses.

The surge in violence has changed the tone of international diplomacy, with even cautious European states speaking increasingly of the likelihood of war in a country of around 45 million people the size of France.

"The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in interviews published in four European newspapers.

GOVERNMENT OFFENSIVE

The next few days could prove decisive: separatists in the eastern Donbass region say they will hold a referendum on secession on Sunday May 11, similar to the one that preceded Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. State Department denounced any attempt at a vote as "bogus" and promised more sanctions if Russia used it, as in Crimea, to send in forces or annex more territory: "This is the Crimea playbook all over again," a spokeswoman said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he would meet ministers in Europe next week to discuss the next steps on Ukraine.

Two days before the vote, Friday May 9, is the annual Victory Day holiday celebrating the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany. Moscow has been openly comparing the government in Kiev to the Nazis, and Ukrainian officials say they are worried that the day could provoke violence. In Moscow, there will be a massive parade of military hardware through Red Square, a Soviet-era tradition revived by President Vladimir Putin.

The past few days have seen government forces press on with an offensive but make little progress in the east, where separatist rebels have so far held firm at their main outpost in the town of Slaviansk and shot down three Ukrainian helicopters.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Tuesday more than 30 separatists had been killed in fighting around Slaviansk, but there was no confirmation of such a figure. The rebels, who triggered fighting in the area on Monday by ambushing government troops, said four of their number had been killed.

At roadblocks in the town, some armed fighters have been replaced by civilians, like Alexandra, in her late 20s, who said she leaves her 10-year-old daughter at home each morning, puts a starting pistol in her belt and walks to the barricades. The tactic of putting civilians at the front could make a government offensive more difficult.

"We have two options - to use heavy artillery ... wipe everything out, put the flag up and report that everything has been done. The second option is a gradual blockade, destroying provocateurs and sabotage to prevent injuries among the population. We are carrying out the second scenario," said acting defense minister Mykhailo Koval, explaining why the operation has taken so long and achieved so little.

Since a pro-European government took power after the uprising that toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich, Putin overturned diplomatic convention by declaring Moscow's right to send troops across borders to protect Russian speakers.

In March, Russia seized and annexed Crimea, and in the weeks that followed, armed separatists have taken control of most of the Donbass, which accounts for around 15 percent of Ukraine's population and a third of industrial output.

Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on Ukraine's eastern frontier. The outbreak of violence in Odessa, hundreds of kilometers away near a Russian-occupied breakaway region of neighboring Moldova, means the unrest has spread across the breadth of southern and eastern Ukraine.

Western countries say Russian agents are directing the uprising and Moscow is stoking the violence with a campaign of propaganda, broadcast into Ukraine on Russian state channels, that depicts the government in Kiev as "fascists".

"Russia sometimes sounds as if it's refighting WW2. Fascism all over the place. Enemies everywhere. Ghosts of history mobilized," tweeted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

LIMITED SANCTIONS

However, so far Western concern has not been matched by any serious action that might dissuade Putin. The United States and the European Union have imposed limited sanctions on lists of individual Russians and small firms, but have held back from measures designed to hurt Russia's economy broadly.

Nonetheless, a senior finance ministry official in Moscow said Russian GDP could shrink again this quarter.

NATO has made clear it will not fight to protect Ukraine, instead beefing up defenses of its nearby member states. NATO's top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said on Monday Russia had used special forces in eastern Ukraine and he now believed Moscow might be able to achieve its goals without resorting to a conventional invasion.

Western leaders have threatened to impose tougher sanctions on Russia if it interferes with presidential elections in Ukraine set for May 25, and most of their diplomacy has been centered around that date.

"If (the election) doesn't take place, there will be chaos and the risk of civil war," French President Francois Hollande said. "The Russians, Vladimir Putin, at the moment want this election not to happen so as to maintain the pressure. It's up to us to convince them."

Petro Poroshenko, a Ukrainian confectionery baron who is front-runner in the presidential election, said the vote would go ahead despite the unrest: "We hope that we will be able to complete the anti-terrorist operation before the election. And where we cannot do so - we will surround (those places) and not allow them to interfere with the election."

But Moscow has increasingly dismissed the prospect, suggesting it will not accept the winner of the vote any more than it accepts the interim government in power since February.

"Holding elections at a time when the army is deployed against part of the population is quite unusual," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in Kiev and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alastair Macdonald)

Join the discussion

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Charlie May 07 2014 at 11:59 AM

If we can get rid of one tyrant OBama maybe we will move in the right direction with common sense and stop the other tyrant Putin....don't forget what Obama told the Russian embassador before his second term...I will have more leverage after I am re-elected....OBama is a liar, a tyrant, has commited treason, and because of his arrogance and incompitance he is indirectly responsible for the murders of US citizens working for the gov't abroad...yet this idiot is allowed to continue to destroy America

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bob May 07 2014 at 12:14 AM

It disgusts me that if the people of Ukraine vote against what the U.S. of A. wants, that great country and supporter of free people and democracy will reject it. 20 years ago it was Russia who was the bad guy who didn't recognize such basic rights. Now the government of a country I once believed in is the bad guy. Our government has a hold on the American people through it's illegal NSA agency and it's unconstitutional "Patriots Act" and expects the world to conform to it's new and twisted views of what "freedom" is. Our government started this fire and has fanned the flames and Russia is trying to bring it under control in it's own ineffectual way. But at least they are trying. And they are also showing devotion to the people of another nation who believes in them. We send provocateurs and then say shame on Russia for annexing an area that was scared for their lives and future under the new regime created by the West.

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ramonbatt May 06 2014 at 11:51 PM

Kerry needs to stay home. What next step? The next step is for Russia to protect Ukraine by annexing. The west have done zero protecting Ukraine. In fact US/EU/ UN made it very clear Ukraine can not be protected because Ukraine is not a member of the EU. Funny how this same idiots were there in 1994 promising Ukraine protection in exchange of their nukes. Why nobody is asking Clinton why Ukraine gave up their nukes?

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1 May 06 2014 at 11:49 PM

This should not be happening at all, or in any civilised Country.......!!!!!!

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allnightradioman May 06 2014 at 11:47 PM

Putin can't get access to Viagra anymore. He's gone limp and wants to take it out on someone else. His P P is drooping. I can see it in my crystal ball. (not my testicle) Send over Miley with her tongue and some herbal tea and all will be peaceful again... until we can get rid of Bieber :( Oh the World and it's trouble. The 80's rocked man!!!

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aledobears May 06 2014 at 11:27 PM

..no problem, once the Peace Treaty in Israel takes affect, it will take Russia's mind off, Ukraine - Russia and China will have more interesting things to do...like invade Israel with all the Arab countries backing them - Destroying Israel, is far more important than some silly war in Ukraine -

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HELLO SHELDON May 06 2014 at 11:27 PM

PUTIN IS NO GOOD YUT-FY-U-MUT.....SEAL TEAM SIX SHOULD TAKE HIM OUT! IF NOT WE WILL END UP WITH WWIII...WITH NUKES

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YourFtr May 07 2014 at 12:34 AM

Bill Clintion was 'taken in' by the KGB drunk and stooge Boris Yeltsin;
who played the fool so Clinton wouldn't put up Reagan's SDI.....
Now that Clinton side-lined SDI; the KGB and Putin are able to come back out of hiding
and re-start the Communist Party, the KGB, and the Soviet Union; and re-establish the Evil Empire.

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1 reply
foubabou YourFtr May 07 2014 at 2:52 AM

You could be right. This could have been the long term Democrat strategy on track since Reagan. Clinton sideline SDI, the next Dem Prez help create unrest in the former Soviet Union countries and BAM the New USSR arrives.

Could Obama have meant more latitude to keep the plan rolling after the election?

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chartwellfh May 06 2014 at 11:12 PM

Pro-Russian, pro-Ukrainian, people-forces; What is this non-sensical reporting: please media call this the way it is: The so called "pro-Russians"(rather Ukrainian citizens) are committing treason just as soon as they raise arms against the country where they are citizens. If they do not like Ukraine then they should immigrate to Russia or somewhere else as soon as possible. What exactly does Russia have anything to do with the divergent views of the citizens of another country, regardless of whether the citizens of that nation love Russia or Ukraine. Russia is clearly an extremely destabilizing force in that region and the American media is playing right into its hands. The world head lines should read: "Russia continues to instigate Ukrainian citizens against their own government". A "pyromaniac fireman", to be sure. If the Russian government wanted stability in Ukraine, their influence would have gone a long way in realizing this weeks ago, without the needless bloodshed.

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1 reply
d.carns chartwellfh May 06 2014 at 11:28 PM

You idiot they are raising arms against Facist illegal coup that took over one city Kiev in February and declared themsleves the Government for the whole country. That is what the ukrainians are fight against. Educate yourself before making stupid statements.

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1 reply
foubabou d.carns May 07 2014 at 1:49 AM

Let's not forget the "Fascist illegal coup" was actually a "US funded and encouraged Fascist illegal coup".

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hdragoon57 May 06 2014 at 11:09 PM

We have an opportunity to post but let's get it right! Fact: Ukraine had already agreed to strengthen its ties to the EU BEFORE the Kiev revolt. Putin pressured the then-sitting, puppet president of Ukraine to change direction by forming a closer bond with Russian. THAT is when the revolt started in Kiev. Please don't post if the facts aren't correct.

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2 replies
d.carns hdragoon57 May 06 2014 at 11:29 PM

EU was robbing Ukraine blind and the acting president did what was right for the people. Unlike the President of the USA right now.

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ramonbatt hdragoon57 May 07 2014 at 12:15 AM

Fact #1 regardless of the mess. The west promise protection to Ukraine in exchange Ukraine had to give up all the nukes back to Russia. Ukraine agree. Clinton sign the treaty. Now the west is saying they would not protect Ukraine because Ukraine is not a member of the EU. Funny how USA the EU and UN were there for Ukraine in 1994. Was Ukraine a member of the EU in 1994? Oops I for got. Britain was there also. Now I am giving Putin all the credit. He is one very smart leader.

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