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Geneva deal makes no impact on defiant activists

THEY are strengthening the barricades in Donetsk this weekend.

STANDING GUARD: Pro-Russian activists keep watch in front of the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine.                                                                     Picture: Scott Olson/Getty
STANDING GUARD: Pro-Russian activists keep watch in front of the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine. Picture: Scott Olson/Getty

The barbed wire, tyres and timber are being piled ever higher and protective miners helmets and batons dished out among pro-Russian separatists occupying the regional administration building in the centre of this regional hub in Eastern Ukraine.

These defiant moves came barely hours after a new international deal in Geneva saw Russia, Ukraine the EU and US agree that illegal military groups must leave official buildings they have been holed up in for weeks, some of them demanding a referendum.

In Donetsk they were paying little heed to the Geneva deal, and much the same response is evident elsewhere across Eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have recently been active storming buildings and seizing weapons.

"I know nothing about what happened in Geneva and care even less," insisted one young masked activist on guard armed with a crowbar outside the regional administration building off Pushkin Boulevard in central Donetsk.

That he knew of the Geneva deal was almost certain, but his contemptuously dismissive attitude mirrored that of leaders in the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic of which he is part.

At a press conference on the 11th floor of the occupied government building in Donetsk, those leaders yesterday also balked at the terms of the Geneva agreement that is aimed at de-escalating the crisis in the country and the worst between East and West since the Cold War.

Russia "did not sign anything for us," insisted Denis Pushilin, the leader of the group that seized the building, clearly throwing down a challenge to any attempts at implementing the Geneva deal.

"The world is listening to some fascists from western Ukraine and Kiev but they don't listen to us," complained Mr Pushilin.

"Thanks to the western Europeans and the world, the Russian bear has been awoken and we have suffered under Kiev's political ambitions for 25 years and we can do it no more."

Mr Pushilin went on to stress that if any illegally occupied building were to be relinquished, then the government in Kiev should do so first, including Ukrainian president, Oleksandr Turchynov and his administration.

Outside the Donetsk building on Pushkin Boulevard, pro-Russian activists were taking Mr Pushilin at his word.

All around the area and neighbouring streets men and women congregate. Some of the activists are miners or manual workers, others disgruntled youths many with a thuggish bearing wearing ski masks and carrying clubs, baseball bats and iron bars.

From behind three walls of tyre and razor wire barricades, some stand guard at the building's entrance.

Occasionally, there is the whiff of petrol from Molotov cocktails, their inflammable soaked rag fuses sticking from the bottles and clustered in strategic points ready to be lobbed should Ukrainian troops be deployed against the occupiers or they be confronted by Ukrainian government supporters.

"In Kiev they say that Russian people in Donetsk should only speak Ukrainian not Russian, for me I would prefer Putin," insists one young activist draped in a Russian flag and reeking of smoke from the many brazier fires that burn at night to keep the occupiers warm.

"Next to him another young man who would only give his first name as 'Roman', pulls at his face mask.

"We wear these not because we are afraid, but because later we may be arrested as criminals for the action we have taken here," he insists, seemingly unaware of the contradictory remark he has just made.

As part of the Geneva deal, those who occupied buildings like this in Donetsk have been offered an amnesty by the Ukrainian government should they lay down their weapons and leave the premises they have taken over. For now, at least, there seems precious little chance of that here.

According to locals in Donetsk, recent weekends have seen a rise in tensions as many pro-Russian activists swell the ranks of those manning the barricades at the end of the working week.

Over the next few days those tensions are expected to rise further as those same activists get set to display their resolve and determination not to be daunted by the latest political moves in Geneva. In the meantime, the barricades here in Donetsk only get higher.

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