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Pro-Russian rebels steal WWII tanks from museums; residents flee

Hardened pro-Russian insurgents are scraping the bottom of the tank for weapons to use against Ukraine. Insurgents turned up at a World War II museum in Donetsk Friday and literally scarfed up a World War II tank along with two howitzer cannons.

Pro-Russian militants use a crate to lift a T-54 Soviet-era medium tank from the WWII open-air museum in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on July 7, 2014 to use it against Ukrainian forces
(AFP Photo/Alexander Khudoteply )

"They had written authorization to take them away," said a bewildered guard from his sentry post outside the immense World War II museum in the insurgent-held city.

In Donetsk, where anarchy often prevails these days, a handwritten note from a pro-Russian militant might serve as adequate authorization from insurgents who allegedly shot down a Malaysian airliner recently, killing 298 civilians.

"They loaded them into a big truck. They took the tank that was least damaged. I think they're going to use them to fight," said the guard who refused to give his name.

An AFP journalist at the museum Friday said there were still markings on the ground where the pro-Russian fighters had fired up the relic tank before loading it onto a flatbed truck with a crane.

Meanwhile, a father and son were reportedly the only visitors at the normally well-attended museum. According to the AFP reporter, the two were taken aback by the theft.

"Can you believe it? They're even stealing museum exhibits now," the father said, before taking a picture of his son swinging from the gun turret of one of the remaining tanks.

The so-called rebels were inspired after a video appeared on YouTube earlier this month showing two men firing up the engine of a World War II Stalin tank displayed on a memorial pedestal.

While some might say stealing tanks from museums is a sign of desperation for any fighting force, pro-Russian militants said to be supported by Kremlin operatives, or Russians, have shot down several Ukrainian aircraft in addition to the civilian airliner.

To boot,14 people in the Donetsk area and two around Lugansk were killed in the past 24 hours, local officials said Friday. In addition, Ukraine says 13 of its soldiers were shot dead during the same time frame.

Eastern Europe is on edge and Western European leaders seem helpless to intervene in any meaningful way other than to complain and issue statements condemning the bloodshed.

At the same time, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama has confined his actions to similar condemnations and Secretary of State John Kerry has made little headway in settling the Ukraine crisis.