Armed men put Putin on the air in eastern Ukraine

Armed men took over a television tower in eastern Ukraine on Thursday and switched it to Russian channels playing an almost non-stop stream of sound-bites from a marathon TV phone-in by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Employees at the tower said the men, who were armed with Kalashnikov rifles, barged in after arriving in cars and frightening off guards by firing a shot.

TV engineers accompanying the men then took Ukrainian channels off the air and replaced them with five Russian channels.

The channels included Russia 1, Russia 24 and ORT – some of the most popular state-controlled channels – which were broadcasting clips of Putin's TV phone-in.

“I was at my desk and heard a shot fired outside. Then men, armed and wearing masks, came in. They had technicians with them and switched channels,” said Tetyana Chernogod, an electrical mechanic who works at the station.

“We pressed alarm buttons when they came in, but nobody responded. I have been seeing Putin all day since,” she said.

Three TV screens were broadcasting clips from Putin's phone-in when this correspondent went to the tower's master control room. Two armed men guarded the entrance.

The Kremlin leader used a good part of his marathon TV appearance to attack the policies of Kiev's pro-Western leaders and to encourage Russian speakers to fight for their rights.

The TV tower broadcasts over a  45 mile radius serving about 2 million people living in well-populated areas just to the north of the main industrial hub, Donetsk.

Ukrainian central broadcasting officials confirmed that the group, who were assumed to be pro-Russia separatists, had managed to twice unplug two Ukrainian news channels that were particularly favorable to Kiev and the pro-Europe “EuroMaidan” movement.

They said that broadcasting authorities in Kiev were trying to block the Russian transmissions from the Andriyivka tower. “We are trying to restore things but we haven't managed yet,” said one official who did not wish to be named.

The raid came after a decision by a Kiev court in late March to have providers temporarily remove broadcasts of some Russian news channels which can be accessed in TV packages. Supporters of the move argued that Russian state media was broadcasting potentially harmful anti-state propaganda.

About 10 localities in the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine have been hit by a rash of rebellions by separatists who have occupied state buildings, including police headquarters, in a bid to further demands for a referendum to be held on the status of the region.

Kiev's leaders, who came to power in February after the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted following three months of protests, say the rebels' demands have been organized by Russia and are aimed at bringing about the break-up of the country.

Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson

We care about Ukraine

We Jews cannot forget millennium-long atrocities and persecutions, and we shall never forget about the Holocaust. But we also remember our struggle for freedom and independence. Zionism is a Jewish national movement that proved to be able to revive the Jewish national state on its biblical land. In the time of trials, not many states and politicians favored our national idea. Although almost alone, we fought for our future, our children and our freedom, and we succeeded. Support of a few nations in the War of Independence in 1948 was of utmost importance. The post-Holocaust Jewish nation enduring enormous difficulties prevailed. The State of Israel is an everlasting proof of the implementation of a national idea.

Nowadays, Ukraine is in flames. Its capital, Kiev, resembles a war zone. Ukrainian people rose up on Nov. 21, 2013, being deceived by their own government. This government was to sign an Agreement of Association with the European Union. A week before the Euro-integration summit in Vilnius, the government withdrew from the agreement. Political analysts regard this decision to have been a dictate from President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. Instead of Euro-integration, an association with the Russian-led Custom Union came up as an alternative plan. Ukraine is an important factor in Russia’s geopolitical games of reviving the empire. Without Ukraine, Russia, in political terms, is reduced to an Asian power. For Putin, an image of Ukraine as a member of European Union equates with a geostrategic failure of retaining the former Soviet borders intact. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the Russian monetary credit in the amount of $15 billion that has negated a prospective Euro-integration.

A new generation of Ukrainians gathered at the Independence Square in Kiev in peaceful protest against the betrayal of their dreams to become part of Europe and no longer be politically and economically subordinated to the Russian Federation. During the protests, known as Euromaidan, the riot police brutally attacked and dispersed young people, using inadequate force. Many were severely beaten and ended up in hospitals. The violent force by the authorities only caused a rising resistance. 

Peaceful protesters ultimately lost patience on Jan. 16, when the government enacted laws resembling martial law. These laws were adopted with all possible violations of parliamentary procedures and regulations and by its very nature are unconstitutional. People took the protests to the streets. They began building a barricade in the government quarter and open clashes with riot police and military interior forces commenced. Since then, there have been at least five dead and many wounded on the protesters’ side.

Ukrainian people in the regions followed suit and started taking over the governmental administrative building, forcing the governors of the ruling political party (the Party of Regions) to resign. The government answered with unleashing the war-like police and internal military forces.

The world must realize that Ukrainian nationalists or Ukrainian radicals initiated the conflict. They are not seeking the power. It is true — they are in the first rows, confronting the riot police and internal military forces. However thousands of ordinary Ukrainians from all over the country are on the front lines as well. They are fighting for a free and democratic country; they are against the corrupt Russian government; they want to build a nation and an independent state. They want a secure future for their children.

The time has come to forget the old Soviet propaganda myths about the Ukrainian nationalists and Ukraine in general. Ukrainians, like Jews, want to live in a country of their own where they can freely speak the Ukrainian language, where they can make a European choice and ultimately live in a country no longer under Russian dictate.

We, the Jews, care about Ukrainian independence and Ukraine people. We can say, in the time of trials, the Jews are on the side of a free and democratic Ukraine. 

Dr. Vladimir Melamed is Director of Archive, Library and Historical Curatorship at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust