DONETSK, Ukraine—“Chanting “Russia, “Russia,” about 8,000 protestors tooked to the streets in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk today.

The protest took place as voters in the Crimean region southwest of here voted whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.

At a rally in a Donetsk square named for Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, protesters called for a referendum to decide whether this coal mining region in the Don River basin should also join Russia. Speakers denounced the government that took power in Ukraine in February, after months of increasingly violent protests in Kiev.

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The demonstrators then marched to the regional prosecutors office, where some 50 police in riot gear blocked then at the entrance.

The referendum in Crimea has divided this region and the international community.

Supporters say the region rightfully belongs to Russia and that the government that replaced fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych is a coterie of fascist-minded nationalists who will abuse Crimea’s majority ethnic-Russian population.

Opponents bristle at Russia’s heavy hand. Crimea effectively is already under Russian control after forces were sent in last month.