In Ukraine`s industrial east, workers weary of the guns

In the shadows of the chimneys towering above Mariupol`s vast steelworks, a few thousand workers gathered after a call by Ukraine`s richest man for people to rally against the insurgency raging across the east.

AFP| Last Updated: May 21, 2014, 09:29 AM IST

Mariupol:In the shadows of the chimneys towering above Mariupol`s vast steelworks, a few thousand workers gathered after a call by Ukraine`s richest man for people to rally against the insurgency raging across the east.

"We want peace in our country," said Olga, one of the workers listening as plant managers spoke out against the pro-Moscow rebels now in control of more than a dozen towns in Ukraine`s industrial heartland.

"We`re tired of this situation. People are afraid of losing their jobs because of a few people with weapons."

Olga was among a crowd of workers in the southeastern city who had answered the appeal by billionaire industrialist and powerbroker Rinat Akhmetov to take a stand against gunmen he said were creating "fear and terror" in the region.

Akhmetov, whose industrial empire gives him enormous influence across the east, had said in an open letter he expected "millions" to join in protest action on Tuesday.

But in Akhmetov`s hometown of Donetsk, there was little sign of a mass outpouring of anger, with only a few hundred people dotted around the stadium of his title-winning Shakhtar football club.

"It was high time he did this to stop everything that is being done here," accountant Natalia Opredelyonova told AFP.

In the stadium, a huge screen broadcast his message as a few children waved the team`s orange and black flag.

Opredelyonova said she had seen plans for the rally announced on television and decided to come to support "peace and the integrity of Ukraine".

Kiev`s embattled government has voiced hope that Akhmetov`s strident attack on the rebels could help turn the tide after months of turmoil that threatens to break the country apart.

Earlier this month, residents of Mariupol took back control of the streets after Akhmetov intervened in the wake of deadly clashes that shook the normally placid city.

The Ilych Steel metallurgical factory in Mariupol is a key part of his Metinvest conglomerate, employing about 30,000 and accounting for 25 percent of the Donetsk region`s budget in tax payments.

"If this (campaign) is well organised and continues then I think it can be successful," said Opredelyonova. "His entire business and life is here so he will defend it."

Back in Mariupol, the workers, most of them dressed in grey work gear and wearing white or red safety helmets, listened as plant managers spoke out against the rebels.

"Those in the People`s Republic of Donetsk are turning our region into a nightmare," said one of the company officials, referring to the self-declared rebel state.

"We can`t let these people go on scaring our children, disrupting our lives and threatening our livelihood."