Russia’s Vladimir Putin blamed Kiev and the West for the bloodshed in Odessa Saturday – as Ukraine officials said the eastern unrest had become “a war.”
Forty-two people were killed and 125 injured when riots between pro- and anti-Russian groups in the southern coastal city ended in gunfights and a horrifying fire, police said.
Most of the victims died when the city’s trade union building was set on fire, causing those inside to choke, burn or jump from the windows.
Local police chief Petro Lutsiuk said 130 people had been detained after the clashes and could face charges ranging from participating in riots to premeditated murder.
"Kiev and its Western sponsors are practically provoking the bloodshed and bear direct responsibility for it," spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters, according to RIA Novosti.
"Those who recognize this junta as legal power becomes an accomplice of this crime," Interfax quoted Peskov as saying.
Meanwhile the head of Ukraine's anti-terrorist centre said on Saturday there was heavy fighting in the eastern town of Kramatorsk, south of rebel stronghold Slovyansk. "There is gunfire and clashes around Kramatorsk,” Vasyl Krutov told a news conference, according to Reuters.
Five were killed and 12 injured in Saturday's violence there, he said.
“What we are facing in the Donetsk region and in the eastern regions is not just some kind of short-lived uprising, it is in fact a war."
Ukraine's Interior Ministry said its forces have retaken the headquarters of the Security Service in Kramatorsk, saying it’s now “under control of the National Guard.”
It came as European military observers held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine were released. The 12 Westerners were freed in Slovyansk, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.
In a statement posted on the Kremlin website, Putin expressed “deep condolences to the relatives of the killed and burnt alive in Odessa and wished fast recovery to those who were injured as a result of punitive actions of Kiev authorities.”
Alastair Jamieson and Maria Stromova
First published May 3 2014, 5:23 AM