On Thursday, separatists in eastern Ukraine told reporters that they would go ahead with plans for an independence referendum on Sunday – despite Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting they shouldn't.
That's a surprising move for people often accused of being Russian proxies: One political analyst described them as "nobodies" in an interview with The Post's Griff Witte.
So who are these men now defying both Putin and Kiev? Here's a rundown of a few of the major separatist names in Ukraine's east.
Pushilin, perhaps the most well-known of the separatist leaders, is a 32-year-old Donetsk native who has told reporters he has previously been a security guard and candy salesman. Perhaps his most noteworthy job, however, was working with an infamous fraudster Sergei Mavrodi – a man referred to as "Russia's Madoff" – on a Russian Ponzi scheme, MMM. University educated and smartly dressed, Pushilin has become a key public face for separatists as chairman of the Donetsk People's Republic.
“People want the referendum, and it’s not just a few people, its millions of people who want the referendum, who need to give this vote for their ideals," Pushilin explained to journalists on Thursday. "Even if we don’t conduct a referendum, the people themselves will conduct a referendum.”
Pushilin is one of five separatist leaders who had sanctions imposed upon him by the European Union.
After leading an assault on the Mayor's office in Sloviansk on April 14, Ponomaryov took the mayor hostage and set up in his office. There's little concrete information about the self-appointed People's Mayor of Sloviansk, however: His age, for example, appears to be a mystery. He is known to have been a Soviet Army veteran, and had a short career making soap before going into politics, his spokesperson says. His style – gold teeth and baseball caps – is a contrast to Pushilin.
“People who come to power in an armed overthrow of the government are criminals,” Ponomaryov told Bloomberg Businessweek last month.
Bolotov declared himself the “People’s Governor of Luhansk" at the start of May. He has also become known as the leader of “the southeast army” according to Itar-Tass, and he is said to be a retired military leader.
Bolotov was also included on the EU sanctions list.
Lyagin is the chairman of the Central Election Committee of the Donetsk People’s Republic. He recently told the BBC he was working 24 hours a day in preparation for the referendum and had 20,000 people ready to vote.
The 31-year-old declared himself the "people's governor" of Donetsk back on March 3 – before being promptly arrested by Ukrainian officials. He was recently released in exchange for a number of officers of the Security Service of Ukraine.
Gubarev was known as an amateur boxer and businessman in the past, but there are reports of darker ties too: Timothy Snyder wrote at the New Republic that he was known as a "neo-Nazi and as a member of the fascist organization Russian National Unity."
Appointed as foreign minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Gubareva is the wife of Pavel Gubarev. According to one interview, she is the mother of three small children.
German Prokopyev, Andrei Purgin and Sergei Tsyplakov
While little is publicly known about these three, they were included on the EU sanctions list. Itar-Tass reports that Propopyev is one leader of the "self-defense forces in Ukraine’s south-east," while Purgin is listed as the head of Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Tsyplakov is part of the DPR leadership.