DONETSK, Ukraine: An uneasy calm returned to the streets of Donetsk yesterday after the biggest battle of the pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, a conflict transformed by the landslide election of a pro-European leader who vowed to crush the revolt.
Government forces killed dozens of rebel fighters on Monday and Tuesday in an assault to retake Donetsk International Airport, which the rebels had seized the morning after Ukrainians overwhelmingly elected Petro Poroshenko as president.
Pro-Moscow gunmen have declared the city of a million people capital of an independent Donetsk People’s Republic. Yesterday, their leader appealed anew for Russia’s help.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of pushing Ukraine into “the abyss of fratricidal war”, and reiterated his call for an end to Kiev’s military offensive.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry urged Kiev to let it send humanitarian aid to civilians trapped by the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“The residents of the Donetsk People’s Republic are on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe,” said separatist leader Denis Pushilin in his appeal. “We are Russians and this is precisely why they are killing us. We want to become part of Russia.”
The rebels’ plight puts pressure on President Vladimir Putin to act, even though he has reduced the number of forces he has massed on Ukraine’s eastern border and has said he would recognise the outcome of Sunday’s election in Ukraine.
Rebel fighters were strengthening their barricades with sandbags on the road to the airport near the hulk of a truck where many of them were killed by government fire on Monday.
The government assault in Donetsk on Monday and Tuesday was the first time Kiev has unleashed its full military force against the fighters after weeks of restraint. Morgues were filled on Tuesday with bodies of rebel gunmen. Some were missing limbs in a sign of the massive firepower used against them.
The separatist authorities say as many as 50 died, including a truckload of wounded fighters blasted apart as they were driven away from the battlefield. The government said it suffered no losses in the operation, which saw its aircraft strafe the airport and paratroops land to reclaim it.
Poroshenko, 48, a billionaire confectionery magnate who became the first Ukrainian since 1991 to win the presidency outright in a single round of voting, repeated his promise to restore government control rapidly over secessionist-held areas.
“We are in a state of war in the east. Crimea is occupied by Russia and there is great instability. We must react,” he told Germany’s Bild newspaper. REUTERS
BERLIN: The president-elect of Ukraine told a German newspaper yesterday that he planned to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to “ease” the crisis in Ukraine.
“We will hold talks with Putin in order to ease the situation and make peace. When and where these talks will take place, is not yet decided,” Petro Poroshenko told the Bild daily. AFP