LUGANSK: Hundreds of pro-Russian gunmen struck a Ukrainian border guard camp with mortar and grenade launchers yesterday in one of the biggest offensives of an insurgency which Washington says is directed by Moscow.
The well-coordinated dawn raid involving rebel snipers perched on rooftops and led to a day-long battle at the base on the southern edge of the rebel stronghold city of Lugansk that Kiev officials killed at least five insurgents and wounded eight servicemen.
But the separatist region’s self-declared “prime minister” Vasyl Nikitin said he personally only saw the bodies of three civilians and the top health official in the rebel administration. “I saw four bodies,” Nikitin said during a lull in the fighting. “They included our health minister... and civilians who were taking a walk in a nearby park.”
Witnesses saw comrades pull the body of one rebel sniper from the roof of a nine-storey apartment block building with his white shirt soaked in blood. The border guard service said its forces and the rebels agreed to a 30-minute ceasefire so that both sides’ wounded could be evacuated by ambulance.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s self-proclaimed “anti-terrorist operation” said the border guards eventually received air cover from fighter bombers that managed to destroy “two mortar crews of militants”.
Witnesses saw small craters in the ground around the Lugansk administration building. Nikitin said the health minister was killed in an air strike on the administration building’s annex. Russia’s foreign ministry angrily accused Kiev of “committing another crime against its own people”.
The clashes were an unwelcome reminder to president-elect Petro Poroshenko of the difficulty of keeping his May 25 election promise to save his crisis-hit country from disintegration and economic collapse.
A visit to Kiev by US Assistant Secretary of Defence Derek Chollet marked another boost for Ukraine’s attempts to build global pressure against attempts by a part of its economically vital industrial east to join Russia.
Downing Street said British Prime Minister David Cameron would also press Russian President Vladimir Putin to take immediate steps to defuse Europe’s worst crisis in decades when the two meet on the sidelines of Friday’s D-Day commemorations in Normandy. AFP