People attend an anti-war rally and march in the south Ukrainian city of Odessa on Sunday.(Photo: ALEXEY KRAVTSOV AFP/Getty Images)
ODESSA, Ukraine (USA TODAY) - Ukrainian Physics professor Ludmila Zalyubinska
rubbed dirt and tears out of her eyes Monday after being pelted by
pro-Russian demonstrators who'd occupied the front steps of the Odessa
regional administrative building.
"We're face to face with our
enemies here," Zalyubinska said, gesturing to several hundred Russian
nationalists who vowed not to let any lawmakers out of the building
until they vote to hold a referendum on whether Odessa should become an
autonomous region of Ukraine. The regional government of Donetsk voted
for a similar measure Monday.
See Also: Kerry heads to Kiev as Ukraine crisis deepens
Like others watching the sometimes
violent scene on the administrative building steps, she worries that
Russian nationalists burning Ukrainian flags, chanting slogans and
erupting into shoving matches with their opponents are trying to create a
pretext for Russia to move into Odessa like it did last week in Crimea.
is crazy and these people are really radicals," said Zalyubinska, who
was standing opposite the pro-Kiev crowd near two men held aloft
hand-written signs that said "Odessa is a Ukrainian city" and "We don't
need Russian help."
Demonstrators Monday we're far fewer than the
estimated 10,000 that marched in Odessa Sunday urging "no to war" and
"no to Russia," said Andrew Bondrenko, who watched the pro-Russian crowd
with concern. "We want to live like we want - we don't want Putin."
is a gritty port city with road chocked with pot holes and whose cars
and buildings are splattered with mud from recent rains that continued
to threaten the crowds on Monday. Its Black Sea economy depends a lot on
tourism, but if Russian troops occupy the province 'nobody else will
come here," he said.
It is also the home of two warm water ports
on the Black Sea and a major railway hub that links oil pipelines from
Russia and Europe, and home to the Ukrainian navy. During the says of
the Soviet Union, the end of which Putin has called a great tragedy,
Odessa was the Communist nation's largest seaport.
That fact has
people here worried that Moscow may be encouraging pro-Russian mobs here
to provoke violence so Putin can use it as an excuse to invade.
Bondrenko spoke, a line of police with knight sticks stood between him
and raucous crowd of dominated by men wearing black jackets, watch caps
and combat boots. A line of pro-Russian activists linked arms on the
front steps. Behind them, holes gaped in the front doors to the
administrative building where glass demonstrators had smashed the glass
earlier in the day.
Russian reporters and camera people milled
through the crowd documenting emotional shoving confrontations, shoving
matches and then cheering as the Odessa regional flag and Russian flag
were hoisted up the flag pole. Several people in the crowd hoisted
Russian Orthodox crosses and large flags of their own depicting images
of Soviet-era Socialist dictator Joseph Stalin. And they held signs
proclaiming "Odessa is a Russian city."
About half Odessans speak
Russian as their first language. Russian President Vladimir Putin has
said Russia may need to send troops into Ukraine to protect Russia's
interests and ensure the security of ethnic Russians in the country.
think that armed state coup took place in kiev. We demand from our
deputies to recognize that obvious fact and to pursue their policies
accordingly. Fedor Dimitrov, a follower of National Alternative
movement, which calls for greater autonomy for the Odessa region.
Davidchenko, leader of the National Alternative movement, which seeks
closer ties to Russia, addressed the crowd in a rousing manner demanding
the vote on the referendum even after lawmakers adjourned without
voting on it.
"We'll stay here until the end," Davidchenko said. "We don't let anyone out of the building until they vote."
The crowd responded with chants of "today, today" and "Russia we are waiting for you."
the side of the building, a line of men in black masks and bearing
black and orange striped flags blocked the side exits of the building.
Marushevsky, 31, who said he supported and sometimes joined the
demonstrations in Kiev that led to last month's ouster of Ukraine's
former president, Viktor Yanukovch, said the pro-Russian demonstration
looked staged to his eye.
"It doesn't look natural because it's Monday," he said.
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