MAKIYIVKA, Ukraine -- Criminals set off two explosions on Thursday in Ukraine's industrial east and left a blackmail note warning of further blasts if they were not paid €4 million ($5.4 million), officials said.
The steel and coal town of Makiyivka in the heavily industrial Donetsk region of east Ukraine was on high alert after the warnings said that five more explosive devices had already been laid for new blasts.
The two explosions went off within half an hour in the early hours of the morning in Makiyivka, which is just outside the city of Donetsk, the home base of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Close to where the blasts occurred, officials found an envelope with a letter threatening five more on Thursday afternoon if a large sum of money was not paid, Deputy Interior Minister Vasyl Farynnyk said in Kiev.
He said that the criminals were demanding the money from people well known locally, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.
The spokesperson for Ukraine's SBU security service in the area, Olexander Balabantsev, told reporters in Donetsk that the criminals were demanding four €4 million ($5.4 million) to halt the campaign.
The letter said that five explosive devices had been laid in the city and they would be set off if the money not paid.
The town was hit by panic as news of the warnings spread, with parents taking their children out of schools and kindergartens even before classes ended.
"We are too scared," said 34-year-old mother Antonina Naumova. "I do not want my child to be at school when such things are happening."
"We do not know where there might be another blast," she added.
The explosions, outside a state coal firm and next to a nearby shopping centre known as the Golden Plaza damaged buildings but there were no reports of casualties.
Yanukovych cut his political teeth in Donetsk and retains a strong following in the region, which is also the home of his close ally and top Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
The region has a reputation for violence carried out by competing business clans and Yanukovych himself served jail terms for petty crime under the Soviet Union.