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New York Times

DONETSK, Ukraine - Pro-Russian militants seized police stations and other security facilities in the most populous part of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, in a brush fire of unrest that the government in Kiev denounced as Russian "aggression."

The attacks on the police headquarters here in Donetsk and on a police station and a state security branch in Slovyansk about 50 miles away, along with reports of shootings in several other towns, suggested a coordinated campaign to destabilize the Donetsk region, a vitally important industrial and coal-mining area that borders Russia.

Six days earlier, pro-Russian activists seized the headquarters of the regional government, declared an independent People's Republic of Donetsk, and demanded a referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, called an emergency meeting Saturday of the country's national security council to discuss the crisis in the mainly Russian-speaking east of the country.

Fears that the government is losing control have been fueled by the militants' seizing of a large number of weapons during the past week.

The demands of the pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine, however, keep shifting between outright secession and greater autonomy within Ukraine for the region to run its own affairs. But calls for unity with Russia now seem to predominate, heightening concerns in Washington and in European capitals that Moscow is orchestrating the disorder to create a pretext for an invasion. Tens of thousands of Russian troops have been massed for weeks on the Russian side of the border a few score miles from Donetsk.

During a call with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on Saturday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed strong concern that the day's attacks by armed militants in eastern Ukraine were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, a senior State Department official said. Militants were equipped with specialized Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea.

The White House said Vice President Joe Biden would travel to Kiev this month to meet with government officials and "underscore the United States' strong support for a united, democratic Ukraine that makes its own choices about its future path."