Crisis in Ukraine

06.15.14

Tension With Russia Boils Over in Kiev

Hours after a rebel missile took out a plan carrying 49 soldiers, Ukrainian frustration with the Russia-sponsored violence led to a violent embassy siege.

KIEV, Ukraine—Flags flew at half-staff across Ukraine on Sunday as the country declared a day of mourning for 49 soldiers killed when their Il-76 transport jet was hit by a rebel missile the day before, outside the airport of Luhansk. Petro Poroshenko, the newly-elected president, addressed the country with an emotional speech, promising to establish control over the border “through which the militia gets weapons, hardware, replenishment and money” from Russia.

As the losses of war rise in the region for both sides, the population in eastern Ukraine are begging the president to put an end to the war destroying lives, homes, and infrastructure. Several cities in eastern Ukraine are now without electricity and water. The 100,000 employees of one of Ukraine’s largest coal mining and electrical generating companies, DTEK, wrote a public letter asking Poroshenko to negotiate peace agreement, as “the region stands on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.” The DTEK letter did not say who the president was supposed to have his peace talks with—Russia, leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, or the all-but-autonomous warlords in towns and regions around the two eastern provinces.

Kiev’s increasing anger and belief that Russia was helping warlords in the east with ammunition and professionals came to a boil on Saturday night, when hundreds of protesters stormed the Russian embassy in the Ukrainian capital, throwing eggs, stones, bottles with paint at the building. Protesters yelled “Murderers!,” and “Hands off Ukraine!” and demanded the embassy be closed. Angry people tore a Russian flag down, and overturned vehicles parked outside the embassy.

Ukraine’s foreign minister joined the crowd, saying he wanted to discourage people from attacking the embassy. One of the destroyed vehicles caught fire. Walls of the Russian embassy building were covered in spots of paint and some of the windows were broken. The official spoke with protesters for about 20 minutes, making statements before video cameras that included a rude cursing addressed to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The diplomat said his words were an attempt “not to allow violence and escalation.” Moscow officials suggested that the attack on the Russian embassy was a well-planned action. Aleksei Pushkov, the head of the Russian Duma’s foreign-affairs committee, suggested that Poroshenko should fire his foreign minister for cursing: “He cannot control himself. One never knows, he might get drunk and puke all over the general assembly of United Nations,” the Russian said on Twitter on Sunday.

The diplomatic scandal caught fire amid key gas price negotiation between Russia and Ukraine, with Russia threatening to cut off gas supplies unless Ukraine pays its gas debts that Gazprom says come to billions of dollars. On Saturday gas negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, with the mediation of EU Commissioner Gunther Ettinger, did not bring any positive results. The sides agreed to continue the talks on Sunday. Meanwhile, on Sunday morning, Moscow police detained four protesters throwing toilet paper at the U.S. embassy in Russia; more protesters gathered around the Ukrainian embassy the night before.

The U.S. State department criticized Kiev for the aggressive attack on the Russian embassy: "The United States condemns the attack on the Russian Embassy in Kiev, and calls on the Ukrainian authorities to meet their Vienna convention obligations to provide adequate security," State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement. John Kerry also spoke with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov about the flow of heavy weaponry and militants across the Ukrainian border. State Department expressed concern about three tanks illegally crossing the border to join the pro-Russian militants. Rebels confirmed that they “got the tanks” but did not clarify the exact number, or from where.

Fighting reached all corners of even most peaceful towns in eastern Ukraine. Locals of Amvrosievka were awakened by artillery shootings at about 3 a.m. on Saturday. At least 10 buildings were destroyed and two shops at a local market. A literature teacher was badly wounded in her leg. After the Ukrainian jet was downed in Luhansk, the war that still does not make sense to many Ukrainian citizens looked more real than ever.