Ukrainian forces retake rebel stronghold of Slaviansk
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Ukrainian forces recaptured the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk on Saturday after a military offensive sent pro-Russian rebels fleeing overnight, the country’s president and a rebel spokesman said Saturday.
Ukrainian forces succeeded in raising the national flag over City Hall in accordance with orders from President Petro Poroshenko.
Poroshenko said in an earlier statement that he had commanded the troops to “raise the government’s flag” over the city, which has been under rebel control since early April when they seized its administrative and police buildings.
Andrei Purgin of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic told The Associated Press that rebels were evacuating, but claimed the army’s campaign had left the city “in ruins”.
Earlier Saturday, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said he had received intelligence reports suggesting that the rebels’ top commander, Igor Strelkov, “and a substantial part of the rebels had fled Slaviansk".
According to Avakov, civilians were taking over roadblocks previously controlled by the insurgents "and carrying weapons and bulletproof vests abandoned by the rebels".
A rebel commander who would only give his nom de guerre as Pinochet said the rebels had relocated to the nearby town of Kramatorsk, 20 kilometres south of Slaviansk.
Slaviansk is the symbolic heart of an uprising sparked by the February ouster of a pro-Kremlin administration in Kiev and which was fuelled by Russia's subsequent seizure of Crimea.
Relentless shelling and sniper fire have since killed more than 470 people and left Western leaders frustrated by repeated mediation failures.
Poroshenko said Friday he was ready to conduct another round of talks between representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the rebels.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
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