World / Europe

Donetsk governor at work in secret location, staff says

By Gabriela Baczynska in Donetsk, Ukraine Reuters (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-16 08:02

The staff of Serhiy Taruta, the steel baron appointed by Kiev as governor of the restive Donetsk region, say he is hard at work in the regional capital, but they cannot disclose his exact location for security reasons.

The governor is in an "operational headquarters suitable for wartime", said Taruta's spokesman, Alexander Omelchuk.

Those unusual working arrangements reveal an uncomfortable truth about the Western-backed government in the capital of Kiev: Its control over the Russian-speaking Donetsk region, in the east of the country, is so fragile, it is almost nonexistent.

The point was driven home over the weekend when a series of insurrections by pro-Russian protesters spread like wildfire throughout the region.

In one town after another, officials and security forces who are nominally loyal to Kiev and supposed to uphold its rule over the country melted away or, in some places, swapped sides and joined the protesters.

Kiev and its Western backers say this state of affairs is the result of cynical manipulation by Russian agents, an allegation Moscow denies.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Kiev's writ does not run in large parts of the territory, raising questions about whether the country can keep functioning in its current form, or ever realize Kiev's ambitions of joining the European Union.

Acting president Oleksander Turchynov rejects the notion that Ukraine is split.

He said on Monday that difficulties with governance were countrywide and stemmed from the fact that then-president Viktor Yanukovych concentrated power before fleeing in February.

"We did not expect that the whole system of central and regional power would fall to pieces so quickly," Turchynov said.

Mining heartland

The Donetsk region, Ukraine's coal mining heartland, has much of the country's heavy industry and is home to 4.3 million people - or about 10 percent of Ukraine's total population as it stood at the start of this year.

A spokeswoman for Turchynov said the authorities in Kiev remain in control of the east of the country, where Taruta is one of several business billionaires they have put in charge, but declined to elaborate.

The Kiev administration announced that it was launching a full-scale operation to put down the rebellions in the east, starting on Monday morning, although 12 hours later, there was no sign of the operation.

"The government is making every effort to restore confidence in the authorities," Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky said at a news conference. "Ukraine is fighting back," he said.

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