Battalion of ‘National Guard’ with ‘Maidan activists’ deployed
Ukraine has launched a military operation to crush anti-government protests in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, deploying thousands of troops, armour and aircraft to Donetsk region where protesters seized government buildings in a dozen cities and towns.
The military, in armoured personnel carriers backed by aircraft, on Tuesday afternoon stormed a small airfield near Kramatorsk. Unconfirmed reports said between four and 11 protesters had been killed in the attack.
Following the attack, hundreds of unarmed Kramatorsk residents drove to the airfield to protest against the killing of civilians.
The Russian TV channel Rossiya-24, which has several reporters in eastern Ukraine, said about 500 government troops and 20 armoured personnel carriers entered the city of Slaviansk, not far from Kramatorsk.
A militia commander in Slaviansk, which is under full control of the protesters, told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that the city had been surrounded by Ukrainian tanks and armoured vehicles.
“If they attack, we will fight,” said Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, acting head of Slaviansk.
Earlier, on Tuesday, Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the Ukrainian Parliament that an “anti-terrorist operation” in the east had begun during the night.
In Kiev, two presidential candidates representing eastern Ukraine were attacked on Monday by armed far right radicals. Oleg Tsarev, an independent, was severely beaten after appearing in a TV show called “Freedom of Speech.” The mob demanded that he and the other candidate, Mikhail Dobkin, withdraw from the elections scheduled for May 25.
A large crowd of radicals rallied on Monday and Tuesday near the Ukrainian Parliament calling on the government to act more decisively against Russian-speaking protesters in the east.
Ukrainian authorities confirmed that a battalion of newly formed “National Guard” made up of “Maidan activists” had been deployed for action against pro-Russian protesters in the east.
Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday that Ukraine “is tottering on the brink of a civil war.”