Violent protests in Ukraine over autonomy powers in east

It comes after the country’s parliament voted to give greater autonomy to rebel-held areas in the east.



It was chaos outside Ukraine’s parliament in Kiev.


People in the crowd pelted black-helmeted national guardsmen with firecrackers and smoke bombs after the vote for greater autonomy in the east.


Police say, shortly after the decision, grenades were thrown.


President Petro Poroshenko was quick to condemn the violence.


“Can you describe the events outside the Supreme Council after the voting as something other than a stab in the back? This was an anti-Ukrainian act, for which all of its organisers, without exception, all representatives of political forces, should be severely held to account.”


Oliver Carroll, a freelance journalist based in Kiev, was at the protests.


He has told the BBC he believes a political party was behind the clashes.


“It seemed, judging by the banners and speaking to the people there, it was organised by, in the main, a political party called Svoboda, who are essentially a very marginalised party. They got less than 5 per cent, which is less than the threshold for representation in parliament. So they’ve been effectively locked out of effective power in Kiev. And they are quite far-right. They’re a controversial body. Some people wonder where they got their financing from, in the first instance. And they’re essentially here to talk about how … they’re playing into the Russian narrative of Kiev being, at the moment, run by neo-Fascists. So there’s a lot of question marks over Svoboda.”


The violence suggests President Poroshenko will struggle to push through laws to decentralise power.


They were part of the faltering Minsk peace deal reached in February for eastern Ukraine.


The bill supports a law giving certain self-management rights to separatists controlling parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.


Oliver Carroll says the bill is only preliminary and requires more votes before it becomes law.


“Because it represents a constitutional change, it needs a super majority. They only got 265 votes. They’d need to take it up to 300, and that, obviously, would require a lot of extra work and, presumably, a lot of extra money. So there was, at one point, an idea that it was going to go through its second reading. That obviously isn’t going to happen. It’s going to be delayed for a long time. And whether it’s going to actually happen in the next few weeks is under question.”


Hanna Hopko is an MP in the Ukrainian parliament and voted for more autonomy for Ukraine’s east.


She explains how much power the regions will have if the bill is enacted.


“Local communities throughout Ukraine will have more power, and they will be 100 per cent responsible for their future. They will have more money, more financial resources, more responsibilities, more opportunities to be responsible for their future.”


It would also allow Russian to be the chosen language of people living in those regions.


And it would grant amnesty to separatists who had previously taken part in military action against Ukrainian forces.


Opponents say it plays into Russia’s hands and would lead, ultimately, to Ukraine losing control in the east.


But Ms Hopko has rejected those suggestions, saying Ukraine has to hold up its end of the bargain as part of the peace deal.


“There are a lot of manipulations, provocations and speculations around the constitutional amendments. There are a lot of efforts from different forces to destabilise the situation in the country, inside Ukraine. And I would like to say that this constitutional process that Ukraine started is a very important process to guarantee decentralisation is enforced. Plus, Ukraine has to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreement.”


More than 6,500 people have been killed since the conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in March last year, following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.