MARIUPOL , Ukraine, May 16 (UPI) -- Thousands of miners and steelworkers took back Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine, from pro-Russian separatists who held the city for several weeks.
The tradesmen were also deployed in at least five other cities, fanning out on streets and banishing the separatists Thursday, after the employer of many of them, metals and mining magnate Rinat Akhmetov, issued a statement Wednesday decrying separatism from Ukraine. Akhmetov urged his employees to take back Mariupol and other cities.
Waves of hard-hatted steelworkers and miners claiming they merely sought order were joined by police, compelling separatists in the streets to retreat. Signage proclaiming the Donetsk (region) People's Republic was taken down. Heavy vehicles from factories rolled in to dismantle separatists' barricades.
The actions stalled the separatists' momentum in eastern Ukraine, which is backed by disputed referendums on independence, an efficient Russian propaganda campaign, and the nearby presence of 40,000 troops across the border. Polls in the region indicated support of Ukrainian unity by the majority on eastern Ukraine respondents, although few said so publicly.
"We have to bring order to the city," said steelworker Aleksei Gorlov of his unpaid patrol of Mariupol's streets. "People organize themselves. In times of trouble, that is how it works."