A pro-Russian activist holds in front of policemen in Donetsk, Ukraine.
A pro-Russian activist holds flag in front of policemen during a rally in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, March 22, 2014. Photo by AFP
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Crowds of pro-Russian demonstrators stormed government buildings Sunday in two major cities in eastern Ukraine, where secessionist sentiment has sparked frequent protests since Ukraine's Russia-friendly president was ousted in February.

Ukraine's Interior Minister attributed the seizure of the buildings to Russian President Vladimir Putin and ousted former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich.

In Luhansk, 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the Russian border, hundreds of people surrounded the local headquarters of the security service and later scaled the facade to plant a Russian flag on the roof.

In Donetsk, to the southwest, a large group of people surged into the provincial government building and smashed windows. A gathering of several hundred, many of them waving Russian flags, then listened to speeches delivered from a balcony emblazoned with a banner reading "Donetsk Republic."

Eastern Ukraine was the heartland of support for Viktor Yanukovych, the president who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. About half of the region's residents are ethnic Russians, many of whom believe Ukraine's acting authorities are Ukrainian nationalists who will oppress Russians.

Ukraine's interim authorities deny they are infringing the rights of the ethnic Russian population and accuse Moscow of trying to sow instability. Russia has moved large contingents of troops to areas near the Ukrainian border, and speculation is rife that unrest in eastern Ukraine could be used as a pretext for a Russian incursion.

Since Crimea held a referendum to secede and then was annexed by Russia in March, calls have emerged in Ukraine's east  for similar referenda.

On Saturday, Ukraine's security service said it had detained a 15-strong armed gang planning to seize power in Luhansk province.

The Security Service of Ukraine said it seized 300 machine guns, an antitank grenade launcher, a large number of grenades, five handguns and firebombs.

It said the group intended to mount a grab for power. No names or additional details were provided.

Also Sunday, authorities in Ukraine said they found the body of a kidnapped journalist who played an active role in protests that led to Yanukovych's ouster. The body was found in a forest about 150 kilometers (60 miles) outside the capital, Kiev.

Cherkassk province prosecutors said Vasily Sergiyenko was abducted in his home city of Korsun-Shevchenkivskyi on Friday evening and later murdered. The nationalist Svoboda party, of which Sergiyenko was a member, said the reporter was found with stab wounds and signs of beatings to his head and knees.

Is Putin responsible?

Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind the seizure of state buildings by pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine on Sunday and promised that police would restore order peacefully.

He also accused Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovich of conspiring with Putin to fuel tensions in the region.

"Putin and Yanukovich ordered and paid for the latest wave of separatist disorder in the east of the country. The people who have gathered are not many but they are very aggressive," Avakov said in a statement on his Facebook page.

"The situation will come back under control without bloodshed. That is the order to law enforcement officers, it's true. But the truth is that no one will peacefully tolerate the lawlessness of provocateurs," he said.