Ukraine's acting president says his nation's military has begun "an antiterrorist operation" aimed at pushing armed pro-Russia demonstrators out of the government buildings in eastern Ukraine that they have occupied for several days.
The effort appears to have begun in the city of Slovyansk, NPR's Ari Shapiro said Tuesday on Morning Edition. He reported from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, one of the places where the pro-Russia protesters have seized some government facilities.
As Ukrainian officials try to dislodge the pro-Russia demonstrators, Ari says Russia's role in support of the protests "seems much more evident." In the town of Horlivka on Monday, Ari reports, after demonstrators took control of the mayor's office "a new commander introduced himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army."
Ari also spoke to a woman from another Ukrainian town "who said the men guarding the barricades where she lives speak with Russian accents and do not know their way around the city."
As he notes, "Russia still denies orchestrating this, and many locals here will tell you that while there are Russians in the mix, a lot of the demonstrations do in fact reflect genuine sentiment from the people who live in Eastern Ukraine and lean towards Russia."
On Monday, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone. The White House says Obama "expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine."
The Kremlin says that "in response to the president of the United States' expressed concern about Russia's supposed meddling in southeastern Ukraine, the president of Russia noted that such speculations are based on inaccurate information."
As we wrote Monday, there are fears about what may happen if there are clashes between Ukrainian forces and the demonstrators.
The Associated Press has noted that "Russia has warned the Kiev government against using force against the protesters in the east and has threatened to cancel an international diplomatic conference on the Ukrainian conflict scheduled for later this week." There are reportedly tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border. Russia says they were conducting military exercises.
Last month, Russian forces moved into what was the Ukrainian-controlled Crimean Peninsula. Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea — an act that Ukraine, the U.S. and many other nations have deemed a violation of international law.
For much more about the crisis in Ukraine and how it has unfolded, see our earlier posts.