Map: Kiev losing control of pro-Putin eastern Ukraine

by @benpiven @hash_said May 2, 2014 6:00PM ET

Some cities and towns of industrial Donbas region have been taken over by pro-Russian separatists allied with Moscow

Ukraine Crisis

The Donbass region is home to giant steel smelters and heavy plants that produce up to a third of Ukraine's industrial output. An armed uprising began there in early April, with Kyiv struggling to respond partially due to fear of provoking an invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops on the other side of the border.

Ukraine's acting president has said police and security forces are effectively "helpless" against insurgents in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Many Russian-speaking business oligarchs from the Donbass area backed ousted  President Viktor Yanukovych and exercise great influence over the region. Rinat Akhmetov, the most powerful of these and Ukraine's richest man, has issued a formal statement saying he remained committed to his investments in the Donbass and to keeping the region as part of Ukraine.

The failed Geneva agreement called on the Kremlin to use its influence to get pro-Russian insurgents to leave the government buildings they have occupied in eastern Ukraine. Those forces have not only balked at leaving the buildings but also stepped up their provocations, including capturing European military observers whom the militants paraded before the media.

Armed pro-Russian rebels have said they were not bound by an international deal ordering them to disarm and leave the public buildings they have occupied for weeks. Click the points on the map above for more information or read about notable locations below:

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Donetsk: Russian-speaking separatists say that the vast majority of voters backed autonomy in a May 11 referendum on secession. Many hope to follow Crimea's break from Ukraine in March and subsequent annexation by Russia. On May 1 in Donetsk, anti-government demonstrators took over the regional prosecutor's office. Upon occupying the building, protesters discarded the Ukrainian flag and replaced it with that of the "Donetsk People's Republic." Activists took control of the customs service building in Donetsk on April 30. The City Hall of the mining region's largest municipality had been occupied by pro-Russian groups since April 6.

Kharkiv: Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes was “hit by a bullet in the back” on April 28 during an attack by unknown gunmen, officials said, adding that he was “fighting for his life” as doctors performed surgery on him. Ukrainian officials have not commented on who they suspect was behind the attack, but Kernes could have angered both sides. He first held a pro-Russian stance, but after the ouster of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, he changed his position to support the new Western-backed government in Kyiv. Clashes in the city, more populous and geographically farther northwest than the other locales of violence, began around April 6. Pro-Russian forces have reportedly occupied and reoccupied government buildings several times.

Luhansk: Pro-Russian leaders declared independence in Luhansk after the May 11 autonomy vote, and announced the possibility of a second poll on whether to join Russia. On April 29, pro-Russian separatists had seized the main government buildings in Luhansk, capital of Ukraine's easternmost province — driving home just how far control over the densely populated region had slipped from the central government in Kyiv. On April 6, pro-Russian separatists had conducted a siege of Luhansk’s security services headquarters, as the radicals took some 60 hostages.

Slovyansk: Two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down and two of their crew members killed on May 2 in Slovyansk. A pro-Russian militiaman was reportedly killed in a separate incident there, according to The Associated Press. The Ukrainian Security Service said one of the helicopters was shot down with a surface-to-air missile, which it said undercut Russia's claims that the city is in the control of civilians who took up arms. Meanwhile, the Kremlin sent an envoy to Ukraine's southeast to negotiate, successfully, the release of seven military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who had been captured by pro-Russian militias in Slovyansk.