Forces Clash With Separatists, At Least Two Dead
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[May 23, 2014]
By Sabina Zawadzki and Gabriela Baczynska
KARLOVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Armed
pro-Russian separatists clashed with Ukrainian self-defense fighters
near the eastern city of Donetsk on Friday, two days before the
presidential election, and at least two people were killed, a Reuters
witness and militia sources said.
A leader of a Ukrainian militia group said his men had been on a
reconnaissance mission near the rural settlement of Karlovka, about
15 km (10 miles) west of Donetsk, when it ran into a checkpoint
manned by heavily-armed separatists.
The clash, after the deaths of at least 13 Ukrainian servicemen on
Thursday in another firefight in the locality of Volnovakha,
suggested there would be no let-up in violence in the east during
Kiev's pro-Western government hopes the election will stabilize
Ukraine after mass street protests toppled Moscow-backed president
Viktor Yanukovich in February, but the separatists have vowed to
prevent the vote going ahead in eastern towns where they have seized
In a firefight that lasted more than three hours, according to
locals, separatists on Friday used automatic weapons, snipers and
grenade-launchers, according to Semen Semenchenko, commander of the
so-called Donbass region battalion, a pro-Ukrainian militia force.
"We have so far confirmed one dead from our soldiers. We hope the
others have been captured but if they are not we will have up to
five dead. We have more than five injured, they are being taken away
to Kiev now," Semenchenko told Reuters.
In Karlovka itself a Reuters correspondent saw two dead men both
dressed in black battle fatigues. One lay on his back by the
roadside while another lay some distance away near a burned-out
warehouse. He had a gunshot wound in his head.
Another fighter, dressed also in battle fatigues, was clenching his
fists in pain as he was being tended to by paramedics for leg
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region after Yanukovich was
overthrown and refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the new
leadership. But it denies Kiev's charges that it has fomented the
separatist rebellions in the Russian-speaking east.
"A small unit was on the road doing reconnaissance and it ran into a
roadblock where there were many more separatists than us. They
opened sniper fire, they had armored personnel carriers and
machineguns," Semenchenko said.
He alleged that the separatists included at least 15 Chechen
fighters from Russia's former rebel region of Chechnya. "We will now
eliminate their roadblock with aerial forces," he said.
There was no immediate account from the separatists of the incident
and it was not clear who opened fire first.
Locals who had largely stayed indoors as soon as the shooting began
in the early morning were unclear about who had attacked whom and
had a mixed view of who was to blame.
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A 52-year-old woman who gave only her first name of Valentina laid
the blame at the door of Kiev which is using the Ukrainian army in
an "anti-terrorist operation" to end an insurgency in which armed
separatists have taken control of strategic buildings in several
towns including the industrial hub of Donetsk where they have
proclaimed a "people's republic".
"Why do they (the Kiev authorities) do this? Why is Europe silent?
Everybody was living normally but now everyone is interfering".
Asked if she would vote on Sunday, Valentina said: "Who should I
vote for - for people who are killing us and shooting at us? The
answer is No!".
Alexei, in nearby Krasnomaisk, voiced an opposite view as he brought
petrol to pro-Ukrainian self-defense fighters.
"All this is because these idiot separatists want to undermine the
elections. But we will vote anyway. Out of 25 kids in my son's
school, only seven are for Ukraine, the others call my son
'Banderovets'," he said, referring to a pejorative label for
In Kiev, authorities who are hoping for a big turnout despite the
loss of Crimea and separatist opposition said they would press on
with election preparations.
"We understand that Kiev, western and central Ukraine do not
represent the whole country. Armed groups which are operating in the
east are trying all they can to stop the electoral process. They are
seizing buildings, wrecking (electoral) technology and abducting
people in efforts to intimidate people," deputy prosecutor general
Mykola Holomsha told journalists.
State Security chief Valentyn Nalivaychenko said separatist plans to
disrupt the count by using a computer virus had been stopped. "We
destroyed a computer program yesterday that was to have wrecked the
results of the election," he said.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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