The Kiev government has said it will act quickly to seize back
more territory from rebels after re-taking Slaviansk in what
President Petro Poroshenko called a turning point in the three-month
conflict against pro-Russian fighters in the east.
Rebels retreating from Slaviansk, some driving armored vehicles
flying Russian flags, poured into Donetsk, 110 km (65 miles) to the
north over the weekend. About 1,000 of them held a bellicose rally
in the central square on Sunday.
Their commander, a Muscovite using the name Igor Strelkov, was
quoted by Interfax news agency as saying his men would fight for the
city, which was "much easier to defend than little Slaviansk".
Businesses have closed down and thousands of residents are believed
to have fled Donetsk.
The city is the headquarters for Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's
wealthiest man by far, whose fortune, founded on coal and steel, is
put at more than $11 billion by Forbes. He said government forces
should show restraint in Donetsk and the surrounding Donbass region.
"Donetsk must not be bombed. Donbass must not be bombed. Cities,
towns and infrastructure must not be destroyed," he told Ukraina
television. "We must avoid suffering and deaths of peaceful people."
The government said it had carried out an air strike against rebel
fighters who had attacked the airport in Luhansk, another eastern
city, on Sunday. It accused separatists in the area of opening fire
in populated areas under the guise of being government forces.
"They use flags of military paratroopers, Ukrainianian state flags
and thus fool the population," military spokesman Oleksiy
Dmytrashkivsky said on Monday.
The Defense Ministry said early on Monday separatists had launched
10 attacks on government posts and army positions in the previous 24
hours with mortars and small arms. It gave no details of the
incidents or casualties, but said troops had returned fire: "The
terrorists were given a fitting reply."
More than 200 Ukrainian troops have been killed as well as hundreds
of civilians and rebels in the conflict.
Separatist rebellions erupted in mainly Russian-speaking eastern
regions of Ukraine in April after Moscow annexed the Crimea
peninsula in March following the overthrow of a pro-Russian
president in Kiev in February.
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Rebels have been barricaded into government buildings in Donetsk,
which they declared capital of an independent "people's republic",
but Slaviansk, with 120,000 people, was the town where they
exercised the most control.
Strelkov, the self-styled rebel
defense minister whose real name is Igor Girkin, was quoted by
Interfax news agency as saying 80-90 percent of his men had escaped
from Slaviansk. They were now organizing the active defense of
Recapturing Slaviansk has given Ukrainian forces by far their
clearest victory after months of patchy performance against the
heavily-armed fighters, many of whom are Russians who crossed the
border, although Moscow denies supporting them.
Poroshenko ordered the assault on Slaviansk after abandoning a
unilateral ceasefire last week, arguing that the rebels had refused
to abide by the truce.
"My order is now in effect - tighten the ring around the
terrorists," Poroshenko tweeted on Sunday. "Continue the operation
to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk regions," he said.
He said the victory in Slaviansk marked the beginning of a turning
point in the conflict, though he cautioned that rebels would now
regroup and "further tests" lay ahead.
In Slaviansk, around 200 residents lined up in the city's central
square on Sunday for meat, potatoes, onions and bread distributed by
"Everything is different now. Tonight is the first night with no
shelling," said Mikhail Martynenko, 58, a guard at a local market
near Slaviansk. "People are in a better mood and there are more
people on the streets. Everyone was afraid. They had no idea when
another mortar would come flying."
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Peter Graff)
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