SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine —
“We have our great mother, Russia, who has taken us in her arms,” said 40-year-old demonstrator Nikolai Antonov. “If Russia hadn’t protected us, we would have had to take up arms” against the new authorities in Kiev.
Posters pasted to walls throughout the city center made comparisons between Russia and Ukraine for gasoline prices, doctors’ salaries and student benefits. The comparisons all suggested Russia was a more prosperous country.
But referendum opponents at a smaller rally said the economic argument is foolish.
“It’s better to be poor and live in a normal country than to live in a police state,” said Ine Sultanova, a 66-year-old retired engineer.
“I’m a citizen of Ukraine. I don’t want to be a citizen of another country, or of Russia. It’s well known what it’s like to live in Russia. There’s absolutely no civil society whatsoever. You can’t say what you want. People can’t gather for demonstrations unless it’s good for the government,” said Andrei Voloshin, a 20-year-old law student.
Details of the Friday night shooting in the city of Kharkiv were murky, but local news reports said it broke out after a skirmish between pro-Russia demonstrators and their opponents.
Violence has escalated in Ukraine’s Russia-leaning east in recent days, as pro-Russia demonstrators have seized government buildings and clashed with supporters of the new Kiev government. At least one person died and 17 were wounded in clashes in Donetsk on Thursday.
Kharkiv, near the Russian border, is a hotbed of pro-Russia sentiment and opposition to the acting Ukrainian government that took power last month after Yanukovych fled the country in the wake of months of protests.
After the skirmish, according to the reports, there was gunfire outside a building housing the offices of several nationalist groups including Right Sector, which was one of the drivers of the protests against Yanukovych and that vehemently opposes Russian influence in Ukraine.