A pro-Russian fighter takes position behind a car as a truck full of rebel fighters heads toward a battle with Ukrainian forces near the airport in Donetsk Monday. The rebels say more than 30 of their number were killed in the violence. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-Russian rebels who had taken over an international airport in Donetsk have been pushed back, Ukraine’s government says. Violent clashes erupted Monday and Tuesday; at least 35 people have died.
From Kiev, NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports for our Newscast unit:
“The battle for Donetsk airport appears to symbolize the government’s tougher stance on the pro-Russian insurgents in the east. Using fighter jets and helicopter gunships, the military says it has retaken control of the airport, though rebels dispute that claim.
“Rebel accounts say dozens have been killed, saying a truck carrying wounded fighters was hit.”
The violence seems to have centered on the airport but also included several other parts of Donetsk. The city’s hockey arena was set on fire, and fighting also focused on a railway station. There are conflicting accounts of the number of people killed or wounded.
Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko is being quoted by several media outlets saying that 38 fighters and two civilians have died in the violence at the airport. But the Kyiv Post says 33 were killed, citing an investigator at a morgue. Reuters reports that a rebel leader told the agency, “From our side, there are more than 50 (dead).”
Government forces targeted the pro-Russian separatists at the airport one day after Ukraine held national elections. On Monday, presumed president-elect Petro Poroshenko compared the insurgents to Somali pirates. And he said that Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation will not and cannot last for months, it will last just for hours.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin spoke about the crisis Tuesday, as reporter Jessica Golloher tells us from Kiev.
“Putin called for an immediate halt to Ukraine’s military campaign against pro-Russian insurgents in the country’s east,” Golloher says. “The Kremlin is quoting Putin as telling Italy’s prime minister that discussions between Kiev’s new government and representatives from eastern regions will help the crisis.”