Heavy fighting broke out at around 4 a.m. near the town of Krasny
Liman, which itself has been under government control since early
"We issued an ultimatum to the terrorists overnight to surrender
their weapons. We guarantee their safety and investigation in line
with Ukrainian law ... They refused," said government forces
spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov.
"Now we are trying to narrow the encirclement. They are trying to
break out," Seleznyov said.
No details of the fighting were immediately available from the
Poroshenko, installed as a president on June 7, is pushing a peace
plan to end the separatist rebellion including an offer of a
unilateral ceasefire by government forces and amnesty for the
separatists as long as they put down their weapons.
Poroshenko was due later on Thursday to meet regional officials from
the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of eastern Ukraine to explain his plan
- though he rules out meeting separatists.
Separatist rebellions erupted in eastern Ukraine in early April
after street protests in Kiev toppled the Moscow-backed leader
Viktor Yanukovich and Russia in turn annexed the Crimean peninsula.
Eastern rebels have called for union with Russia.
Kiev has accused Russia of fomenting the unrest in the east and of
allowing volunteer fighters from Russia to cross into Ukraine to
support the rebels. This is denied by Moscow.
The violence has cost the lives of 147 Ukrainian soldiers and
wounded 267 up to now, the defense ministry said on Wednesday. But
many scores of separatist militia, civilians and members of other
military bodies such as the national guard have also been killed and
the overall death toll is much higher.
Ukrainian forces, which lost 49 servicemen on June 14 when
separatists brought down a military helicopter in Luhansk region,
have been gradually tightening their encirclement of rebel positions
to the south and east of Krasny Liman including the rebel stronghold
Up to 4,000 separatist fighters could be involved in Thursday's
fighting near Krasny Liman, and armored vehicles and possibly tanks
were being used by both sides, the military source said.
The reported use of tanks could not be independently confirmed.
[to top of second column]
Military sources said the Ukrainian forces had fired leaflets into
rebel areas giving them an ultimatum to lay down their weapons in
line with the Poroshenko blueprint.
"When they received a refusal, the forces of the anti-terrorist
operation went over to active action," Dmytro Tymchuk, a military
analyst with good sources in the military said.
"There's a major battle going on which exceeds in terms of force and
scale anything there has been up to now," a military source said.
Olesya, a woman in the village of Yampil near Krasny Liman, said
Ukrainian forces had entered the village in armored vehicles bearing
the Ukrainian flag.
"There's been no shooting. We residents went out into the street to
watch the column - and then went back to hide in our houses again,"
she said by telephone from her house where she was with her husband
and five-year-old daughter.
"But there was fighting all night. Mines were flying over our heads.
Planes flew over and we could hear heavy weapons. It's awful what is
going on here," she said.
"There is an ongoing active phase of the ATO (anti-terrorist
operation) in the region of Krasny Liman," said Seleznyov
Asked about the report that 4,000 separatists could be involved,
Seleznyov, the government forces spokesman, replied: "Then, there'll
be 4,000 coffins".
(Reporting by Lina Kushch and Aleksandar Vasovic in Donetsk and
Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Writing By Richard Balmforth)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.