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Despite claims by the demonstrators to represent the entire Donetsk, a region of more than 4 million people, rallies outside the administration building since the weekend have drawn crowds of only a few thousand.
While none of the leading figures in the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic movement have said they want the region to join Russia, they have declined to rule out the option. Their initial priority, they say, is to secure autonomy, after which the population will be asked whether it wishes to become part of Russia.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said this week there was strong evidence some pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine were hired and were not local residents.
People in the corridors of the Donetsk building — many of them wearing masks and carrying sticks — invariably identified themselves as being from Ukraine when questioned.
Similarly, representatives of the Donetsk Republic movement dismissed claims of Russian support, saying volunteers had arrived from all across the Donetsk region.
"I live in Mariupol, I have three children there, and I came here so that my children could have a normal life in the future," said Sergei Renin.
Renin said he was proud to be a Ukrainian but concerned over what he described as attempts by the "Nazi government" in Kiev to trample the rights of Russian speakers.
Even Taruta expressed doubts that Russia was orchestrating the unrest. Still, authorities have said that overwhelming numbers of Russian citizens were visiting Ukraine on recent weekends that saw spikes in anti-government rallies.
The Kremlin has pushed for constitutional reform in Ukraine that would turn the country into a federation, with broad powers for each of its regions. The demands reflect Russia's desire to maintain influence over its neighbor and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.
Maria Danilova and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev contributed to this report.