Govt. deploys militia in Odessa, Germany calls for Geneva-2
Ukrainian forces resumed the offensive against anti-government protesters in the country’s east, with dozens reported killed on Monday in fierce fighting near a rebel stronghold in Donetsk region.
Rebel self-defence forces battled advancing government troops on the outskirts of Sloviansk, the flashpoint of armed rebellion in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking southeast.
The Ukrainian army used aircraft and heavy artillery against the rebels, killing “more than 10 militia,” according to Rossiya 24 TV channel. Interfax news agency said at least 20 rebels had been killed.
Government forces lost four servicemen and about 30 were wounded, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.
Self-defence forces retreated into Sloviansk, and the army also pulled back.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said a helicopter had been shot down over Sloviansk on Monday. Kiev admitted to losing two helicopters during the first assault on Sloviansk last week.
In Donetsk, 1,000 volunteers were reported to have signed up to defend the city against Ukrainian forces following a call for mobilisation from the leaders of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Rebels said they will hand out 10,000 firearms captured in the local security service headquarters in Donetsk.
The burning alive of dozens of anti-government protesters in Odessa, after a building was set on fire by Ukrainian neo-Nazi radicals on Friday, has ramped up hostility in eastern Ukraine toward nationalistic western regions of the country.
“We’re ready to fight to the end. If they [ultranationalists] come here they will just slaughter us,” a volunteer told Russian television.
The Interior Ministry announced on Monday that it had deployed in Odessa a new police force, “Kiev-1” battalion composed of “civil activists,” a euphemism for pro-government nationalists.
On Sunday, the neo-Nazis marched through central Odessa in an intimidating display of strength, chanting “glory to Ukraine.”
There were no Ukrainian nationalists among more than 100 activists detained after Friday’s clashes. On Sunday, relatives of the arrested broke into the detention station forcing police to release over 60 activists.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier called for a Geneva-2 conference on Ukraine, saying that the April 17 Geneva accord had not been implemented.
“We do need a follow-up conference, as we should finally and fully agree on the diplomatic ways of Ukraine’s crisis regulation,” Mr. Steinmeier told the German broadcaster ARD on Monday.
Russia, for its part, is pushing for talks between Kiev and the protesters in Ukraine’s eastern regions.
One of the reasons Kiev is pressing ahead with its military crackdown is that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is due to release the first $3.2 billion out of a $17 billion loan for Ukraine agreed last month, said it could stop the disbursement of the rest of the money if Kiev loses control over its eastern regions.