Ukrainian nationalists protest outside Russian consulate in east

KHARKIV, Ukraine, Nov 26 - Dozens of masked Ukrainian nationalists hurled flares and eggs at the Russian consulate in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Monday in a protest after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels over the weekend.

Some of the protesters shouted "Death to the Russian occupants." A tree inside the consulate courtyard caught fire, causing a thick cloud of smoke to billow up into the sky.

Russia has ignored Western calls to release three Ukrainian naval ships it captured near Crimea and accused Kiev of plotting with its allies to provoke a conflict.

Kiev in turn accused Russia of military aggression and put its armed forces on full combat alert, saying it reserved the right to defend itself.

With relations still raw after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the crisis risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.

Dozens of protesters had gathered outside the Russian embassy overnight in Kiev, where masked men threw flares before police intervened. "We gathered here today to express our protest against the Russians, over their actions today, over the shooting of our military," protester Oleksiy Ryabov said at the Kiev protest.

"We are very angry. We should have severed all diplomatic relations with this country a long time ago."