Screen grab from a video showing militias demonstration in the streets of Odessa.
Although Kiev and the mainly pro-European regions in western Ukraine have returned to relative calm after the ousting of president Victor Yanukovich, tension is rising in the country’s east and in Crimea, where Russian influence is dominant. In Crimea, a highly strategic peninsula and the only majority Russian-speaking region in Ukraine, militia groups formed in the past few days appear determined to defy the new authorities in Kiev.
Like the rest of the country, Crimean cities such as Odessa and Sevastopol also experienced the “Maidan” protest movement sparked by former president Yanukovich’s refusal to sign a trade deal with the European Union. But 60 percent of the region’s residents are Russian speakers, and many of them look favourably upon the country having closer relations with its neighbour Russia. Clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Europe supporters have broken out during protests, particularly in the days before Yanukovich’s removal.
Clashes between pro-Europe and pro-Russia supporters in the city of Kerch, in Crimea.
Since then, the tension has stepped up a notch, notably after the Ukrainian parliament’s decision on Sunday to cancel a 2012 law
that officially made Russia a regional language in parts of the country where Russian speakers made up more than 10% of the population. In response, pro-Russian protesters decided to form self-defence brigades (called “Narodnaia Druzina”) in Sevastopol to “defend the city” against the new, pro-Europe leaders in Kiev. Hundreds of men have already signed up.
Video showing volunteers signing up for a militia in Simferopol on February 23.
Militiamen in the streets of Odessa on Feburary 23.