The counter-revolution of the Babushkas

They are early risers. By the crack of dawn they go and buy groceries and bread, and then they gather in front of the Regional Government's building in the centre of the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

They head for the dozens of police lined up to protect the building and engage with them in hefty discussions, endless tirades venting their grievances.

They are Eastern Ukraine's Babuchkas, older women who have worked hard to raise families and cared for their children and men and now live off a small pension earned in Soviet times, which they are afraid to lose should Ukraine turn Westwards.

Men tell me they are the real power in these parts of the world. And with the government here lacking any credibility and the police uncertain of its allegiance, they may be right

Their fears date back to WWII, when the Western Ukrainians sided with the Nazis and committed many horrific massacres.

They may be wearing fur coats, nothing fancy in this cold climate, and are armed with handbags which they use to repel any dissenting voices from the square. Some chase away a strong and bearded man with a broomstick.

Over lunch some of them turn up at the Opera on Lenin square to listen to a concert for women's day, then they return to the counter revolution.

After dark we see them battling the riot police in front of the security services building, the former KGB headquarters, where they demand the release of their leader.

There are, of course, others. More brutal and younger men, some say bussed in from Russia, but in all they don't seem to number more than a few hundred in this city of 2 million.

There seem to be an equal number of militant pro-Ukrainians, with nobody knowing what the great majority of people here really stand for.

That is why a referendum may not be such a bad idea.