DONETSK, Ukraine – Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused Friday to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev.
Denis Pushilin of the self-appointed Donetsk People’s Republic told reporters the insurgents in more than 10 cities do not recognize Ukraine’s interim government as legitimate and will not leave the buildings until the government resigns. He demanded that Ukrainian leaders abandon their own public buildings.
Talks among Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union produced an agreement Thursday in Geneva to take tentative steps toward calming tensions in Ukraine. The country’s former leader fled to Russia in February and Russia annexed Crimea in March. The Geneva agreement calls for disarming all paramilitary groups and immediately returning all government buildings seized across the country.
Pushilin, speaking at the insurgent-occupied regional headquarters in the eastern city of Donetsk, said the agreement was “reasonable” but insisted “everyone should vacate the buildings,” including Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president.
Ukraine has scheduled a presidential election for May 25, but Pushilin reiterated a call to hold a referendum on self-determination for the Donetsk region by May 11. The same kind of referendum in Crimea led to its annexation by Russia.
Ukraine has faced months of turmoil, first in Kiev by protesters angry that former President Viktor Yanukovych wanted closer ties with Russia instead of Europe, then in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian supporters. Now many of the buildings in the east occupied by the tacitly Moscow-supported insurgents are in the hands of highly trained gunmen, a situation that has complicated authorities’ plans to retake them.
Pushilin said the insurgents would not hand over their weapons until the government halts efforts to reclaim the occupied buildings.
“As far disarmament goes, the Kiev junta has already begun violating its agreements since yesterday, by announcing that it will not pull its troops out of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk,” Pushilin said, referring to two cities occupied by the insurgency.
In a sign that Ukraine’s fledging government is ready to meet some of the protesters’ demands, the acting president and prime minister issued a joint statement Friday saying the Ukrainian government is “ready to conduct a comprehensive constitutional reform that will secure powers of the regions,” giving them a greater say in local governance.
They also pledged “a special status to the Russian language” and vowed to protect the rights of all citizens whatever language they spoke.
Yatsenyuk also told parliament Friday the government has drafted a law to offer amnesty to all those willing to lay down their arms and leave the occupied government buildings.