Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

People during an anti-war rally in Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine, hold a sign that reads "to hell with you, Putin." / Olga Rudenko, For USA TODAY

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine - "Putin, hands off or die," reads a sign in the hands of a college student, one of a crowd of 3,000 people who rallied in the main square here to protest Russia's military aggression.

That's because even though this Russian-speaking industrial city of one million, Ukraine's fourth largest, had its best times in the Soviet years, many are looking at the situation in Crimea with apprehension.

"We speak Russian, and we're fine here," said 21-year-old Kiril Romadanov, attending the anti-war rally, Ukrainian flag in his hand. "I hope Russia will hear this - we don't need them, we don't need any protection."

People here see Russia's hand behind the drive among pro-Moscow Ukrainians in Crimea to hold a referendum Sunday to secede, and many believe Moscow has its eye on East Ukraine next, or half the country.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he asked Russia to respect Ukraine sovereignty during talks with Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov said there was no "common vision" between the two nations over the situation in Ukraine.

Russian troops have invaded Crimea from a base on the Black Sea leaded from Ukraine and on Friday the Russian foreign ministry warned it reserves the right to intervene in eastern Ukraine as well in defense of ethnic Russians who it claims are under threat.

Lavrov denied any plans to send troops there but did not rule it out. The ministry said clashes Friday in the eastern city of Donetsk showed that Ukrainian authorities had lost control of the country and could not provide basic security.

Ukraine's central government in Kiev said the statement shows Russia is preparing a false pretext to invade in East Ukraine just as it did in Crimea, noting that the ministry failed to mention the clashes were provoked by a hostile pro-Russian crowd confronting pro-government supporters.

Dnipropetrovsk stands on the fault line between the pro-Russian east of the country and anti-Russian, nationalistic west. Built on both sides of the Dnieper River, which flows into the Black Sea, Dnipropetrovsk was a "closed city" during the days of the Soviet Union due to the aerospace industry centered in the city.

After Ukraine declared independence in 1991 and the Soviet Union was replace by modern Russia, the city became a powerhouse of industry, ranging from food-processing and dress-making factories to major aerospace companies and heavy equipment manufacturers.

Several modern business skyscrapers mingle with the Stalinist architecture of its theaters and government buildings.

Oksana Antikhovych, 42, a housewife from Dnipropetrovsk, was among those came with her family to a rally against the unrest she blames on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Judging from Putin's actions, he will not stop at Crimea and will try to provoke separatism in Ukrainian eastern regions, too." she said.

"As for Dnipropetrovsk, it depends on us - will we allow this to happen or no," she said. "I can't picture this city as part of any other state than Ukraine, and most of the people I know agree."

Antikhovych is standing in the shade of the now-empty stone pedestal in the middle of the city's central square. Until very recently the pedestal used to host a statue of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian communist revolutionary who created the Soviet Union that held Ukraine and other countries in eastern Europe captive for nearly 70 years.

People here toppled it the day after Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from the office last month following weeks of protests against him in the Ukraine capital of Kiev.

The Lenin Square where the monument stood for some 50 years was renamed "Heroes of Maidan Square," referring to area of Kiev where the protests were centered.

With Yanukovych hiding in Russia, a new government was named by Ukraine's parliament and new governors appointed in some regions. Here, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, 51, a wealthy industrialist, was named governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

The third richest man in the country with an estimated wealth of $2.4 billion, Kolomoyskiy announced that he took the office "to calm down" the city and prevent separatist movements from gaining momentum.

Born in Dnipropetrovsk, Kolomoyskiy is a member of the city's smallish Jewish community that numbers no more than 70,000 people, and has been asked to calm the fears of people who think the protest movement in Kiev is dominated by nationalists who hate ethnic Russians, and that closer ties to Moscow may be a good thing for that reason.

About 1,000 people gathered for a counter rally to express pro-Russia sentiments just two blocks from the demonstration attended by Antikhovych and her family. The protesters, most of them older than 50, called for joining with Russia or at the very least to push for more autonomy from Kiev.

They railed against the Right Sector party, a nationalist group involved in the Maidan Square protests.

"What is this Right Sector? Why does this secretive organization play such a major part in the life of Ukraine now? They are armed and the government doesn't do anything to disarm them," said Liudmila Simonova, 75, a retiree.

"One thing that makes me want Dnipropetrovsk to separate from Ukraine and join Russia is lack of safety for me personally. If something happens to me now, the government won't be able to punish the criminal because it doesn't control anything now," she said.

Like almost everyone at the demonstration, Simonova attached a striped orange-and-black St. George's Ribbon - a symbol of support of Russia - to her blue winter coat. Her opponents from the anti-Russia rally use Ukraine's blue-and-yellow flags as their movement's symbol.

Viktor Marchenko, head of the city's Soviet Officers' Alliance, spoke to the crowd standing on the porch of the monumental Soviet-style opera house.

"We must re-establish the Soviet authority!" Marchenko shouted to the crowd, getting murmurs of appreciation.

Some in the city are angry at Kiev for the upheavals of the protests as well as corruption and lack of stability they blame on the central government. Some say they are sympathetic to the views of the pro-Russia crowds but don't want to join Russia.

"They seized power illegally and now adopt laws that many don't like," Elena Romanova, 23, said. "They want us to move closer to the European Union but we are not in the position to do that and will suffer economically from such a step."

Romanova was at the pro-Russia rally but said she did not want Russian interference, just a better government in Ukraine. Also at the rally, Liudmila Katsapova said she wanted more than that.

Katsapova, 54, is unemployed and lives on the state-paid pension of around $130 per month. She says she recently lost her apartment due to debt and "in Russia they don't take away person's only place to live."

"I wasn't satisfied by the old government and president Yanukovych, but the new government is even worse," Katsapova said. "People in Russia live better than we do, and I hope Crimea joins Russia and Dnipropetrovsk will follow."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: In East Ukraine, fear of Putin, anger at Kiev

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

TUE
22
WED
23
THU
24
FRI
25
SAT
26
SUN
27
MON
28

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX