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Ukraine Investigates Attacks Against Russian Banks Amid Maidan Commemorations

  • RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops stand guard outside a branch of Russian bank Sberbank, which was attacked on February 20.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops stand guard outside a branch of Russian bank Sberbank, which was attacked on February 20.

Ukrainian authorities say they have launched a criminal investigation into multiple attacks on Russian banks during this week's commemorations of the deadly 2014 antigovernment Euromaidan protests.

The attacks in Kyiv, Lviv, and Mariupol came amid rallies marking the second anniversary of the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Late on February 21, a Sberbank branch office was torched in the western city of Lviv shortly after would-be arsonists failed to set ablaze another Sberbank branch in the city.

Lviv's local ZIK television channel reported that unidentified individuals threw makeshift firebombs made from metal canisters at the two bank branches.

One central Sberbank branch was engulfed in flames, while the fire at the second Lviv branch was quickly extinguished by firefighters.

There were also reports of attacks on the night of February 21-22 against two branches of another Russian bank in Lviv, VTB, and one Sberbank branch in the southern city of Mariupol.

WATCH: Right-wing Ukrainian nationalists attack a branch of privately held Alfa-Bank in Kyiv on February 20.

The fresh attacks came after nationalist protesters on February 20 ransacked the Kyiv offices of two Russian banks -- Sberbank and Alfa-Bank. Participants smashed windows and equipment and hurled rocks into the Kyiv office of billionaire businessman Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man.

Ukrainian nationalists are angered by the authorities' failure to address Ukraine's endemic corruption, and Akhmetov, whose wealth originates from from mining and steel, is a target of their anger.

The nationalists blame Akhmetov of supporting corruption and pro-Russia separatists.

The violence came as Ukrainians commemorated the Day of the Heavenly Hundred on February 20 -- the bloodiest day of months-long antigovernment protests that ended with Yanukovych fleeing Kyiv on February 21, 2014.

Stalled Reforms

An Interior Ministry spokesperson said on February 22 that Kyiv police -- who did not intervene to stop the bank attacks in the capital despite having deployed some 4,000 security forces to maintain order during the day of protests -- were investigating the incidents "under Article 296, Part 2 (hooliganism), of the Ukrainian Criminal Code."

The spokesperson added that "the culprits face up to five years of restricted freedom, or up to four years' imprisonment."

Scores of people were killed by sniper fire or in fighting with the security forces on February 20, 2014, before Yanukovych fled the capital for Russia.

Yanukovych’s ouster was followed by Russia seizing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and Russian-speaking separatists in eastern regions launching actions that escalated into a war that has killed more than 9,100 people.

A cease-fire deal was reached a year ago, but reports of violations are frequent. Ukraine and Western countries say Russia has sent troops and equipment to back the insurgents. Moscow in turn blames Ukraine for keeping tensions high by failing to push through measures that would increase autonomy for the eastern regions and allow local elections.

Political tensions have also risen in recent weeks amid growing public disenchantment with the pro-Western government over a lack of progress on reforms.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on February 16, after President Petro Poroshenko called on him to resign "in order to restore trust" in the government.

On February 21, a day after the Day of the Heavenly Hundred, up to 1,000 Ukrainian nationalists rallied in central Kyiv to demand the ouster of the government.

The demonstrators set up six tents on Independence Square on February 21, saying they planned to stay there overnight

On the morning of February 22 no more than a dozen protesters remained on the square.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, TASS, and Interfax

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