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Over 100 killed in fierce Kiev onslaught

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Jets, copter gunships used to wrest control of Donetsk airport

More than 100 pro-independence militia and civilians died in Ukraine’s troubled east in a day of ferocious fighting as government forces mounted their biggest yet assault on the rebels.

A fierce battle for control of Ukraine’s second largest airport in Donetsk broke out on Monday, hours after chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko claimed victory in a Ukrainian Presidential election and called for putting down the revolt in the Russian-speaking east “within hours.”

It was for the first time that Ukrainian military unleashed full lethal force on the rebels. Fighter jets and helicopter gunships strafed and fired rockets at rebel positions in the airport before 500 paratroopers moved in to retake control of the major transport hub.

Alexander Borodai, Prime Minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said about 100 militia and civilians died in the battle. Kiev claimed its forces had not suffered any casualties.

Russian television showed gory footage of a truckload of bodies of dead militia in Donetsk. A masked member of the self-defence forces said a van carrying wounded militia had been attacked by a Ukrainian helicopter despite being marked with a Red Cross.

Ukrainian forces issued an ultimatum to the militants in Donetsk to surrender or face destruction.

“We have identified all the buildings where the militants are entrenched. If they refuse to give up, their holdouts will be attacked with special high-precision weapons,” said Vladislav Seleznev, spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s operations in the east.

A massive assault on the city of one million people could lead to enormous loss of life. Ukrainian forces said they would give civilians three hours to leave the city, but the Kiev-appointed Mayor of Donetsk said people would refuse to leave their property unattended.

In Sloviansk, the main rebel stronghold in Donetsk region, People’s Mayor Vyacheslav Ponomaryov on Tuesday asked civilians to leave the city in anticipation of a government assault. On Monday three residents were killed and eight wounded when government shells hit a residential area.

Rebel leaders in the neighbouring Luhansk region said they had dispatched several militia units to Donetsk to help repulse the government offensive. Ukrainian Border Guards Service said that they intercepted several cars loaded with Kalashnikov guns, grenade launchers and explosives that were part of a convoy of trucks that crossed from Russia early on Tuesday.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for “an immediate end to the use of the army against the people and an end to any violence by all sides.”

Ukraine’s President-elect on Monday announced plans to travel to Moscow after his inauguration in the first half of June, but a Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday it was “too early” to talk about a such a visit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would “respect” the Ukrainians’ choice of President, but is yet to comment on the election of Mr. Poroshenko and the sharp escalation of fighting in Ukraine’s east.

Mr. Putin, who sent troops to peaceful Crimea “to protect the lives” of Russians and Russian-speakers and obtained a mandate from the Russian Parliament to do the same elsewhere in Ukraine, risks losing face with his inaction over the killing of protesters in Russian-speaking Donetsk and Luhansk.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 10:09:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/over-100-killed-in-fierce-kiev-onslaught/article6054395.ece

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