Ukrainian officials announced this morning that 56 people left a government building in the eastern city of Luhansk that has been occupied by pro-Russia separatists since the weekend. Beyond that, nobody seems to have a firm handle on what happened or what's going on now.
Yesterday, officials reported that 60 people were being held hostage by the armed occupiers. Today, there's the report about 56 people leaving, but it's unclear whether they were hostages or others who were there on their own. One eyewitness reported from within the building that it appeared free of unwilling occupants, per the Associated Press:
Serhiy Tyhipko, a lawmaker associated with the previous Ukraine government and who is now in opposition, said he was able to enter the seized building Tuesday night and claimed there were no hostages inside. He urged Kiev to take note of the protesters' demands. "The authorities are not listening to the southeast. People are putting forward certain demands, but nobody hears (them) and doesn't want to react," Tyhipko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Which could mean that there were only 56 hostages and they were all released, or that there were no hostages in the first place — which is what both the protesters and a police spokeswoman have reported.
Luhansk is one of three cities where pro-Russia groups have seized control of government buildings and are vaguely demanding independence from Ukraine.
Reality check via Donetsk poll: ✓18% want to join Russia ✓15% want federalization ✓65.7% prefer to stay with Ukraine http://t.co/jZSM8ZRXs6— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) April 9, 2014
In Donetsk, separatists have declared a "people's republic" and are calling on Russia to help them out, Crimea-style. In Kharkiv, at least, it seems officials have forced protesters to exit the building.
As the occupations continue, Ukrainian officials are losing patience with the situation. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said "For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict they will get a forceful answer from the Ukrainian authorities." He said today that "a resolution to this crisis will be found within the next 48 hours."
Meanwhile, as Ukrainian officials struggle with how the handle an apparently growing separatist movement, Russia is again maintaining its innocence. Reuters reports:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian agents and special forces on Tuesday of stirring up separatist unrest and said Moscow could be trying to prepare for military action as it had in Crimea. Russia denied the accusations on Wednesday and dismissed concerns over a troop buildup near the border with Ukraine in what has become the worst East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War in 1991. "The United States and Ukraine have no reason to be worried," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Yefremov said he is drafting up an amnesty bill to woo the occupiers out, saying. "The situation is so tense and complex that one stray word might cause a flare-up. To prevent people suffering ... we are proposing a draft law on an amnesty." That, at least, seems to be a more promising course of action than brawling in parliament, which was yesterday's tactic.