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Mushrooming Citizen Patrols In Ukraine Raise Fear Of More Violence, Divisions

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As Ukraine's civil unrest spreads across Ukraine, with antigovernment protesters laying siege to official buildings in a dozen cities, jittery citizens are taking security into their own hands.

Self-defense groups are hastily being formed in the Russian-speaking east, President Viktor Yanukovych's traditional power base, to bar protesters from seizing control of local administrations.

In the European-leaning, western part of Ukraine, local residents supporting Kyiv's Euromaidan protests are also conducting patrols and guarding government buildings seized by demonstrators last week.

But there are fears that the mushrooming of rival vigilante groups, instead of bringing order back to the streets, will only fuel violence and divisions.

"There are risks that they will clash," says Kyiv-based political analyst Taras Berezovets. "It is an extremely dangerous, uncontrollable scenario."

Yanukovych sympathizers, including Cossacks and Afghanistan war veterans, have already lent police a hand in breaking up pro-EU rallies and repelling protesters seeking to take over government buildings in Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkasy, Sumy, and Odesa.

Emboldened by their success, they are now getting organized into special task forces to keep what they describe as violent, radical antigovernment rioters at bay. 

Ready To Fight 

National Unity is one of several groups currently rallying volunteers in the southern city of Odesa.

Known for its anti-EU stance, the youth organization says more than 1,000 people have already come forward over the past four days.

"We call on everyone to stay calm and we hope that these units will not have to be involved in conflict situations," he says. "But in our country, it's better to be prepared for any turn of events. We will never give them our cheek to be slapped. If they come to us with weapons, we will meet them with weapons." 

Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036. 

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