Russian insurgents retreat in Ukraine

Last updated 06:46 17/05/2014

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Pro-Russian insurgents have retreated from government buildings in a major eastern Ukrainian city as steelworkers began citizen patrols.

Mariupol, second-largest city in the Donetsk region, was one of the cities in the east overrun by pro-Russian protesters who have been in control of government buildings there for weeks.

Citizen patrols began earlier this week as Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man who is believed to wield great influence in the area, urged the steelworkers at his factories to help the police restore order in the city.

Akhmetov's Metinvest initiated Thursday's agreement with steel plant directors, local police and community leaders on improving security in the city and vacating separatist-occupied buildings. A representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, which declared independence on Monday, was also party to the deal.

An Associated Press crew did not see any insurgent presence in Mariupol Friday morning.

German Mandrakov, who was once the commander of Mariupol's occupied governmental building, told The Associated Press on Friday that his associates fled while he was "forced" to leave the government building they have been controlling for weeks.

"Everyone ran away," he said, using a vulgar Russian word to refer to them as cowards. "Someone is trying to sow discord among us, someone has signed something, but we will continue our fight."

Several dozen Metinvest workers, in their overalls and helmets, were clearing out the barricades outside the government building on Friday.

The first major citizen patrol was held in Mariupol on Thursday, local police spokeswoman Yulia Lafazan told The Associated Press. There are currently about 100 groups of men consisting of two policemen and six to eight steelworkers patrolling Mariupol streets, she said.

Lafazan credited the patrols for a "drastic improvement" in the crime situation in the city.

Burglaries and car-jackings became a norm after the pro-Russian insurgents asserted themselves in the city earlier this month, bringing in a wave of marauding.

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- AP

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