Ukraine’s government says it has secured a small airport in eastern Ukraine after reported clashes with pro-Russia separatists, though some of the details remain unclear.
From the Associated Press (via Boston Herald):
In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces said they repelled an attack Tuesday by about 30 gunmen at a small airport.
The clash came hours after Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, had announced an “anti-terrorist operation” against the armed, pro-Russian insurgents who had seized control of numerous buildings in at least nine cities in Ukraine’s restive east.
The central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, who it says are being stirred up by paid operatives from Russia. The insurgents are demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia, and, complicating the political landscape, many local security forces have switched to their side.
The clashes Tuesday came at Kramatorsk airport, just south of the city of Slovyansk, which is 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border. The city has come under the increasing control of the gunmen who seized it last weekend.
The precise sequence of events in Kramatorsk was mired in confusion amid contradictory official claims.
The BBC, which had a reporter in Kramatorsk, indicated that an angry crowd had gathered outside the airbase, while a group still remained later and chanted slogans in favor of referendum.
Reports of casualties were still unclear at the time of this writing, as the AP noted.
There were conflicting reports of casualties. Yury Zhadobin, coordinator of a pro-Russian defense force, said two people were slightly injured and were taken to a hospital. Russian media, without sourcing, claimed anywhere from four to 11 casualties at the airport. Ukraine’s government said there were no casualties and added that Ukrainian forces took an unspecified number of militiamen prisoner.
In an attempt to defuse the standoff, Gen. Krutov came out to speak to the crowd of people picketing the airport but was attacked by them.
While he spoke of repelling an attack, the new government in Kiev declared that its forces had recaptured the airport from militiamen.
Reuters also reports that the general received a hostile reception, and by evening had withdrawn into the air base with his men.
Tuesday’s actions follow the Ukraine government’s recent announcement that it would launch a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” against separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russia posted on President Vladimir Putin’s website Tuesday that Putin, in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, condemned Kiev’s use of force. “Mr Putin stressed that the Russian side expects the United Nations and the international community to clearly condemn these anti-constitutional actions,” the statement added.
Additional video report of the ongoing operations in eastern Ukraine below from CNN.
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