SLAVYANSK: Ukraine’s new Western-backed leaders vowed yesterday to stick by their unilateral ceasefire and pursue peace talks despite the downing by pro-Russian militia of an army helicopter in the strife-torn separatist east.
The death of nine servicemen outside the rebel bastion of Slavyansk and loss of two troops in sporadic attacks prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to threaten to unleash a powerful new military campaign in the Russified rustbelt.
Witnesses in Slavyansk heard a wave of shelling being launched by Ukrainian forces who have effectively surrounded the devastated city of nearly 120,000 yesterday morning. Their assault was met with extended rounds of anti-aircraft and heavy machine-gun fire that echoed through deserted city streets.
“This is the calm before the storm that begins once the ceasefire ends,” said a 42-year-old rebel who is simply known to his unit as “Oleksandr the Soldier”.
Poroshenko’s ominous warning dented hopes of the sides mediating an end to 11 weeks of guerrilla warfare that has killed more than 435 people and brought the ex-Soviet nation to the brink of collapse.
Kiev’s temporary ceasefire was picked up by rebel commanders on Monday but was due to expire tomorrow morning after just two rounds of inconclusive talks.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said he told his counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday that Kiev had thus far kept to its pledge to hold fire despite dozens of rebel raids.
“We are committed to do our utmost to achieve the de-escalation of the situation,” Klimkin said during a meeting of top diplomats from the 28 Nato member states. AFP