Crowds of demonstrators waving Russian flags storm government buildings across eastern Ukraine

A pro-Russia demonstrator scuffles with riot police near the government building in Donetsk

Crowds of pro-Russian demonstrators have stormed government buildings in several major cities in eastern Ukraine.

In Donetsk, 50 miles west of the Russian border, a large group of people, including many in masks carrying sticks and stones, surged into the provincial government building and smashed windows.

A gathering of several hundred, many waving Russian flags, then listened to speeches delivered from a balcony emblazoned with a banner reading “Donetsk Republic.”

Several hundreds flooded the street waving Russian flags and brandishing banners that read “Donetsk Republic”

Activists in the building said they want to see a referendum for the Donetsk province to join Russia.

A photographer reported seeing people bringing car tyres to be used as barricades against any presumed attempt by authorities to retake the building.

Eastern Ukraine was the heartland of support for Viktor Yanukovych, the president who fled to Russia in February after months of protests.

About half of the region’s residents are ethnic Russians, many of whom believe Ukraine’s acting authorities are Ukrainian nationalists who will oppress Russians.

Ukraine’s interim authorities deny they are infringing the rights of the ethnic Russian population and accuse Moscow of trying to sow instability.