The Ukrainian military says it aims to besiege the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk to force capitulation.
“The strategic plan of President Petro Poroshenko calls for a total blockade of these two cities until the bandits capitulate,” Mikhail Koval, vice-chair of the security council and interim Defence Minister, told Inter television.
He was answering a question about whether the Army would bomb or storm the cities. In addition to taking back Slavyansk, government troops have reclaimed two other cities from the separatists, Artemovsk and Druzhkovka, where Ukraine’s blue-white flag once again flies, according to General Valery Heletey, nominee for the Defence Minister post.
Luhansk mayor Sergei Kravchenko reported heavy fighting and at least one death from a grenade bomb.
Rebels regroup in Donetsk
Earlier, pro-Russian insurgents driven out of their key stronghold in eastern Ukraine converged on Donetsk, where their commander said on Sunday that they will regroup to renew their fight against the Ukrainian government.
Ukrainian troops on Saturday forced the rebels out of Slovyansk that had been the centre of the fighting. The success there suggests that the government may finally be making gains in the months-long battle against the insurgency.
It was not yet clear, however, whether the capture of Slovyansk has permanently crippled the rebels.
Rebel fighters from Slavyansk and other towns taken over by the Ukrainian army were seen Sunday milling around central Donetsk, the provincial capital of a region with a population of about one million where the separatists have declared independence in the name of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Igor Girkin, the defence minister of the separatist republic, said in a video interview on Sunday that he had arrived in Donetsk from Slovyansk. Pro-Russian insurgents also have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the neighbouring Luhansk region, which like Donetsk sits along the border with Russia.