By Kristina Wong - 05/03/14 10:22 AM EDT
The Kremlin announced Saturday that he has received “thousands” of calls for assistance from Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and is weighing what to do, according to the Washington Post.
A spokesman said “people are calling in despair, asking for help. The overwhelming majority demand Russian help,” Dmitri Peskov told reporters Saturday. “All these calls are reported to Vladimir Putin.”
The announcement comes after the Ukrainian army launched its first major assault in Slovyansk on Friday.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the military assault was intended to protect civilians from “mercenaries of foreign states, terrorists and criminals who are taking hostages, killing and torturing people, and threatening the territorial integrity and stability of Ukraine,” the Post reported.
Putin called the offensive a “criminal” act and said it had “effectively destroyed the last hope for the implementation of the Geneva agreements.”
Under the accord signed on April 17 by Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union, separatists were supposed to lay down their arms and vacate government buildings they have occupied across eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, 34 people died in clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian mobs on Friday in the Black Sea port town of Odessa.
Peskov denied that Russian authorities could control the pro-Russian protesters inside eastern Ukraine.
“From now own Russia has effectively lost its influence of these people, like any other country has, because it will be impossible to persuade them to disarm and end resistance in the face of a direct threat to their life," Peskov said, according to Interfax newswire service.
At the same time, Russian envoy Vladimir Lukin helped to obtain the release on Saturday of seven international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that were held by pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk for more than a week.
Five Ukrainian military officers were also released.