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Ukraine's New Premier Vows: No Talks With Gangsters and Killers

President Petro Poroshenko sworn in Sunday amid mixed messages; promises amnesty as families begin to flee Slaviansk.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 6/8/2014, 3:03 PM

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko
Reuters

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised change in his inaugural speech Saturday, making a number of stark resolutions to the tune of cheering crowds. 

"I don't want war. I don't want revenge," he said, after taking oath. "I want peace and I want peace to happen."

"Please, lay down the guns and I guarantee immunity to all those who don't have bloodshed on their hands." He also called to make a deal with Russia allowing non-Ukrainian nationals who have joined the fight to leave Ukraine safely. 

But he then vowed to fight "by the sword" to defend his country, subtly referencing the continued Ukrainian military assault on the country's embattled east.  

"No one will protect us, if we do not learn to protect ourselves," he said. "Talking to gangsters and killers is not our avenue."  

Poroshenko further caused controversy by first stating his willingness to repair Ukraine's shaky relationship with Russia, then reiterating the Ukrainians' assertion since March that Crimea - which was officially annexed by Russia several months ago after a de facto military occupation - is still part of Ukrainian territory.

“Citizens of Ukraine will never enjoy the beauty of peace unless we settle down our relations with Russia,” he said. But he then added, “Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is and will be Ukrainian soil,” to a standing ovation. "There can be no compromise on the issues of Crimea, European choice and state structure.”

Fleeing to Safety?

Meanwhile, the mass exodus of women and children from the besieged east Ukrainian province of Donetsk continues, as a cease-fire between the military and pro-Russian separatists sparks an organized evacuation of women and children from Slaviansk. 

According to Reuters, about 120 people were evacuated from the city over the weekend. Reasons ranged from the simple explanation - women's and children's lives are most in danger - to rumors that the city is soon going to run out of food. 

Last week, Russian authorities insisted to international media that as many as 4,000 people - mostly women and children - had fled across the border to Western Russia after the Ukrainian military assault, seeking asylum. Ukrainian authorities continue to deny or downplay the claim. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the interim, has ordered border guards to stop the illegal crossings of people from Ukraine by beefing up security, the state-run ITAR-Tass news agency reported Saturday. 

On Sunday, a representative of the city's mayor's office told the agency that heavy shelling had started from the Ukrainian military.

"The center of the city is currently under artillery fire. One of the shells has exploded near the city administration building,” Stella Khorosheva said. No casualties have been reported, but she added that telecommunications were down and there were “serious problems with drinking water.”

“The water pipe has not yet been restored and water has remained only where people have made up bottled water stocks or have their own wells,” she said. Locals say electricity has been cut off in most of the city.