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Ukraine fault line on joining Russia runs through Pittsburgh sister city

Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A woman joins several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators in Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Many protesters called for the return of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who fled to Russia last month after deadly protests in the capital city of Kiev.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A woman joins several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators in Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Many protesters called for the return of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who fled to Russia last month after deadly protests in the capital city of Kiev.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A pro-Russia demonstrator stands in front of riot police to try and prevent any provocation by younger protesters as they line up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A pro-Russia demonstrator stands in front of riot police to try and prevent any provocation by younger protesters as they line up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A Ukrainian man's shadow is cast on a tent as flags fly beneath a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Donetsk's Lenin Square in Ukraine on Friday, March 21, 2014, as pro-Russia demonstrators prepare for a rally Saturday.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A Ukrainian man's shadow is cast on a tent as flags fly beneath a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Donetsk's Lenin Square in Ukraine on Friday, March 21, 2014, as pro-Russia demonstrators prepare for a rally Saturday.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators fill Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators fill Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A man with his face painted in the colors of Russia's flag speaks to police during a pro-Russia demonstration in Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A man with his face painted in the colors of Russia's flag speaks to police during a pro-Russia demonstration in Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Men are silhouetted beneath the Russian flag as they join several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators in Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Men are silhouetted beneath the Russian flag as they join several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators in Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators fill Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators fill Lenin Square in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Riot police line up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building as several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators march from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Riot police line up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building as several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators march from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Riot police line up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building as several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators march from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Riot police line up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building as several thousand pro-Russia demonstrators march from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A pro-Russia demonstrator taunts riot police in front of Donetsk's regional administration building. Several thousand demonstrators marched from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A pro-Russia demonstrator taunts riot police in front of Donetsk's regional administration building. Several thousand demonstrators marched from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A pro-Russia demonstrator argues with riot police lined up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building. Several thousand protestors marched from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A pro-Russia demonstrator argues with riot police lined up in front of Donetsk's regional administration building. Several thousand protestors marched from Lenin Square to the building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A pro-Russia demonstrator poses for photos in front of riot police outside Donetsk's regional administration building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A pro-Russia demonstrator poses for photos in front of riot police outside Donetsk's regional administration building on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Ihor Todorov, Donetsk National University's professor of international relations, speaks about the situation in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Friday, March 21, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Ihor Todorov, Donetsk National University's professor of international relations, speaks about the situation in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Friday, March 21, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - A Ukrainian woman joins several thousand pro-Russia supporters in Lenin Square in Donetsk on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A Ukrainian woman joins several thousand pro-Russia supporters in Lenin Square in Donetsk on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

Pittsburgh's connection

Donetsk became one of Pittsburgh's sister cities in 1999 under then-Mayor Tom Murphy. The two cities united to promote friendship and to build U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

The relationship began in 1988 through an exchange of photographic exhibits. More than 120 Donetsk residents visited here between 1996 and 2000, hosted by Pittsburgh's large American-Ukrainian population; in 1995, Donetsk's hockey team, Druzhba, participated in a youth sports exchange and tournament in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh City Council declared Feb. 15, 2000, to be City of Donetsk Day as 10 newspaper, radio and television journalists witnessed the unveiling of a Ukrainian flag. The flag stands with those of 15 other sister cities outside council chambers in the City-County Building, Downtown.

— Bob Bauder

Saturday, March 22, 2014, 10:15 p.m.
 

DONETSK, Ukraine — Where Pushkin and Shevchenko boulevards converge, about 5,000 pro-Russia separatists massed on Saturday outside the regional governor's office.

Chanting and waving blue, white and red Russian flags, they demanded that the new billionaire governor, Serhiy Taruta, resign. Riot police with silver-colored shields blocked them from the building.

The boulevards — named in Soviet days for Russia's and Ukraine's great poets, Alexander Pushkin and Taras Shevchenko — symbolize the countries' historic ties.

They may be the site of the next confrontation between the two.

A week after Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, some in this eastern Ukrainian city are agitating for their own referendum; others fear such protests will hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to invade eastern and southern Ukraine.

“We don't want the EU. We want to be part of Russia,” a female speaker shouted in Donetsk's Lenin Square as the mostly elderly crowd chanted, “Russia! Russia!”

They waved a mixture of flags — those of Russia, Ukrainian Communists, the old Soviet Union's red hammer-and-sickle banner and Donetsk.

A sign on a heroic-sized Lenin statue proclaimed that Viktor Yanukovych, ousted a month ago by street protests in Kiev, “is our legal president.”

“We want him to come back to our country,” said businesswoman Anna Annaykova, 41.

Claiming Yanukovych's ouster “was paid for by the U.S. and the EU,” Annaykova said Ukraine has been “divided by other countries, and Russia is our old friend.”

Supporters of Yanukovych, now exiled in Russia, “could make a human-chain corridor to take him back to his place of work, and even die for him,” she vowed.

Around her, other demonstrators chanted: “Crimea is Russian” and “Crimea, Donbass, Russia.”

Donbass is this region of factories and mines. Donetsk's nearly 1 million residents consider themselves to be eastern Ukraine's capital, with a motto — “Power and Beauty” — and a “sister city” link to Pittsburgh.

Most of them are angry with the interim government in Kiev. Yet many say they want to remain in a unified Ukraine; some want independence from both the European Union and Russia.

“I don't want to join Russia. I am for Ukraine, but not with this government,” said Sergey Strelnikov, 29, a radio station manager. “I think this government is illegal. … I think they are corrupt and fascist.”

Olena Korol, 22, a journalist at the station, believes anti-Yanukovych fervor in Kiev ignited pro-Russia sentiment here.

Co-worker Ulia Rubanenko agrees but pleads that “Ukraine can't be divided. We already lost Crimea.”

Fellow journalist Anastasia Galasyuk, 24, is “pro-EU … and against Ukraine being part of Russia.”

Many of her friends joined Kiev's uprising; she hopes other countries “help us keep a united Ukraine, because (Russia) stole our beautiful Crimea, and now they are talking about Donetsk. We don't want this.”

Russia was always popular here, according to Ihor Todorov, an international relations professor at Donetsk National University — and so was Yanukovych.

“But the separatists who are trying to make Donetsk part of Russia, they were more hidden, and we are unsure of what exactly they want,” Todorov said.

Russian intelligence agents arrived in Donetsk this month to stir up trouble, he said. “The operation had a name — the ‘Russian Spring,' as an analogy to the Arab Spring.”

Most people here are “very affected by the Russian media and support Putin's policy,” he said, and that crowd of elderly demonstrators in Lenin Square reflects “nostalgia for the Soviet Union.”

Todorov hopes Ukraine remains united. But that “depends on the central and regional government. We also have this Putin and Russia trying to destabilize the world, and there is this possibility of the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine.

“We just have to hope for unified actions from the U.S., EU and NATO,” he said. “If they lost Ukraine, it will be just as they lost Czechoslovakia in 1938.

“Putin won't stop with just east and south — Putin wants all of Ukraine.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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