Ukrainian troops on Thursday launched an assault on the eastern rebel stronghold of Slaviansk, taking control of a checkpoint north of the city and prompting rebels to evacuate civilians from the occupied city hall and take up defensive positions.
According to an AFP journalist, gunfire was heard after at least five Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers took up position at the entry to the town.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a statement that military and special police forces had killed “up to five terrorists” in clashes with insurgents when destroying three checkpoints outside the city, while a spokeswoman for the militants, Stella Khorocheva, could only confirm two dead on the pro-Russian side.
Khorocheva told AFP that all civilians had been ordered out of the insurgent-held town hall as the Ukrainian soldiers entered the city.
"The armed men handling the defence of the town hall will remain," she said.
The fighting was the first since acting President Oleksandr Turchinov on Tuesday ordered the resumption of military operations in east Ukraine, where pro-Russia protesters and masked gunmen have seized government buildings and set up checkpoints along the roads.
Kiev claimed it had inflicted stinging defeats on pro-Kremlin rebels in other parts of east Ukraine on Thursday, retaking control of the town hall in the southeastern port city of Mariupol and repelling an attack by heavily-armed militants at an army base in the eastern town of Artemivsk.
They were the first military successes announced by Ukraine's Western-backed government since pro-Russian militants seized control of a string of towns in the country's southeast over the past several weeks.
Later Thursday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said that Kiev’s deployment of troops in eastern Ukraine was a “serious crime against its own people”, warning that such assaults would have repercussions.
"That is simply a punitive measure that will without question have consequences... including for our inter-governmental relations," he said, but without specifying the nature of consequences.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-24