May 31, 2014 9:24 pm
Updated: May 31, 2014 9:43 pm

Pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine ask Moscow for help

WATCH: (May 31, 2014) More than a thousand pro-Russia demonstrators gathered in Donetsk. They called on Moscow to protect them from the Ukrainian military. Kyiv blames the rebels and Russia for the escalating violence. Mike Armstrong reports.

KYIV, Ukraine – Demonstrators on the main downtown avenue of Ukraine’s capital set piles of tires ablaze on Saturday to protest authorities’ call to end the encampment that began six months ago. A few hundred meters away, workers in hard hats cleared debris from torn-down barricades.

VIDEO GALLERY: Ukraine under siege


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The contrasting scenes on Kreshchatik Street in Kyiv highlighted just one of the many uncertainties facing Ukraine. Even after the May 25 election for a president to replace the interim leader who took power amid chaos in February, many Ukrainians remain deeply suspicious of the government, and several hundred are still holding out at a vast protest camp.

Three months of protests during the winter eventually drove pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country. But the extensive protest tent camp and the barricades of wooden pallets, tires and trash that protected the camp remained even after interim president Oleksandr Turchynov was appointed.

The holdouts say they want to keep up the encampment until the new government and president-elect Petro Poroshenko carry out important reforms in a country long riddled by corruption.

“Personally, I have no plans to leave. They need to show the people that the new laws are working – they’re where they are thanks to us,” said demonstrator Anna Chaikovska, from the Rivna region in western Ukraine.

Newly-elected Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, has called on the demonstrators to fold up their tents and go home. But aside from removing some of the barricades, authorities have taken little action.

Russia has repeatedly criticized the Ukrainian authorities for failing to clear out the encampment and free buildings occupied by demonstrators, which was among the terms stated in an agreement reached between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union in April aimed at cooling tensions in Ukraine’s crisis.

As violence escalated in the region, the Ukrainian and pro-Russian sides have blamed each other for the rising number of civilian casualties in the conflict.

Heintz reported from Moscow. Efrem Lukatsky in Slovyansk, Ukraine contributed to this report.

© The Associated Press, 2014

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