Ukraine’s rebel leader is sworn in, crisis deepens

Donetsk, April 2014. [Dasjo/Flickr]

A pro-Russian separatist leader was sworn in on Tuesday as the head of a self-proclaimed ‘people’s republic’ in eastern Ukraine, in a ceremony that worsened a standoff with Kyiv.

Alexander Zakharchenko, who was elected in a rogue vote on Sunday that was denounced around the world, took the oath to “honestly serve the interests of the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic and conscientiously fulfill my duties.”

Before the ceremony, which took place in a drama theatre in Donetsk, a big industrial city and the separatists’ stronghold, another separatist figure, Andrei Purgin, said: “We are starting a history with this inauguration and what happens today will be repeated. We are laying down the traditions of the Republic.”

Pro-separatist mercenaries. Donetsk, May 2014. [VICE/Flickr]Pro-separatist mercenaries. Donetsk, May 2014. [VICE/Flickr]

Hired by Moscow. Pro-separatist mercenaries arrive in Donetsk, May 2014.

Kyiv’s pro-Western leaders fear that a new “frozen conflict” could now be created in its eastern regions and further threaten the territorial unity of Ukraine, which lost control of its Crimean peninsula in March when it was annexed by Russia.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has led to US and European Union sanctions against Russia.

Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, said on Monday that Germany found it incomprehensible that “official Russian voices” were talking of recognizing the election in eastern Ukraine.

Current developments in east Ukraine ruled out any premature lifting of EU economic sanctions against Russia and if the situation worsened, further sanctions may be necessary, Seibert added.