Russian-backed rebels are taking over scores of factories and mines in eastern Ukraine, many of them belonging to a tycoon whose foundation has been the largest provider of humanitarian aid to a war-battered population.
The moves announced Wednesday by the rebels came after a weekslong blockade of the east by Ukrainian nationalists and right-wingers. The blockade has seriously disrupted trade on both sides, cutting off much of the coal shipments to government-controlled territory and impeding shipments from the mills and factories that are the east's economic backbone.
The blockade has raised the already high tensions in Ukraine, where a war between government forces and separatist rebels has killed more than 9,800 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. The Minsk agreement, a 2015 cease-fire pact that has been consistently violated, envisions the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions remaining in Ukraine, although with expanded local powers. But a recent surge in fighting, the blockade and Russia's decision last month to recognize passports and other documents issued by the rebels have threatened the goal of reintegrating the regions into Ukraine.
"We are proud that the blockade has hit the pockets of the occupiers. We should call it a war and stop ... all trade with the occupied territories," parliament member Semen Semenchenko, a blockade advocate, told The Associated Press.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's government has spoken against the blockade, saying it hurts ordinary Ukrainians in the rest of the country by cutting off coal shipments from separatist regions and creating power shortages. However, it has taken no action to break it, fearing to challenge the nationalist groups.