UK & World News
Ukraine Pro-Russia Protesters Want Self-Rule
Brimming with self-importance and decked out in skateboard armour they bustled up glaring through the gaps in their balaclava hats.
"You need security," they snapped.
It was difficult to guess whether this was an instruction or an offer.
But the pro-Russian militants of Makiivka, an industrial city in the centre of the eastern Ukrainian province of Donetsk, were on a charm offensive.
Politely and with puffed up chests they hastened us past ordinary civilians trying to get through the ordinary bureaucracy of the city hall, into the presence of Sergei Novakovski.
He didn't wear a mask but wore a splendid moustache instead.
"You can't film here. Not here," he commanded as we blundered into what appeared to be a semi-military operations room, crowded with thickset men in black and wrapped in cigarette smoke.
He pointed to a smaller chamber: "This is our medical clinic.
"People are going about their everyday business, we are just providing security against the gangsters in Kiev - they are Nazis, racists," he insisted.
Elsewhere in Ukraine's east, his comrades, who have taken over at least a dozen police and other government buildings in towns and cities across this industrial heartland, were reported to be digging in and building barricades.
They were reacting to the Kiev government warning that it had launched a "counter-terrorism" operation to chuck them out.
But here there were just a few tyres and wooden pallets tossed to each side of the building.
Curious onlookers came to watch the teenagers in masks and their older leadership, who had adopted a more conciliatory message than the hard line Russian separatists who provided much of the energy on the street, which led to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
"We are not separatists. We are Ukrainian. We want regional autonomy within the state of Ukraine," Mr Novakovski insisted.
"We don't want anything to do with the government in Kiev. They came to power illegally and are just being paid by the Europeans. We have nothing in common with them."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned he reserves the "right" to send troops into Ukraine if the Russian speaking population is threatened.
He has been accused by the US, UK and UN, of deliberately destabilising the region as a prelude to invasion or to foment greater pro-Russian federalism.
The eastern oblasts (provinces) have become fractious.
A sudden bout of blood-letting during an attempt to clear government buildings of pro-Russian militia, some of them heavily armed, could spark Russian intervention.
But Mr Novakovski and his followers in Makiivka know they must tread more carefully.
Donetsk maybe a hotbed of pro-Russian dissent.
It may have a population that is more than 50% Russian speaking - but less than 40% are ethnically actually Russian.
The Ukrainian has been replaced with the Russian colours above City Hall - but it flaps defiantly on many other buildings.
Any attempt to repeat a Crimean-style takeover operation would be met with resistance from a large minority or even a majority of local people.
Perhaps that's why Mr Novakovski shrugged.
"What's a flag anyway," he said.