A woman cries near her burning house after shelling in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine, last month. The city of 100,000 has now been retaken from pro-Russian separatists. Dmitry Lovetsky/AP
Ukrainian troops have retaken the key stronghold of Slovyansk from pro-Russian forces in a sign that Kiev may be regaining control over the country’s east, months after insurgents swept through the region establishing a self-proclaimed independent republic.
The country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, and a spokesman for the rebels confirmed that the city of 100,000 was back in government hands after a night of fighting. Poroshenko ordered his troops to hoist the Ukrainian flag over Slovyansk’s city council building.
The offensive follows the collapse of a 10-day ceasefire that may have allowed Kiev’s forces to regroup. Even so, Poroshenko said Friday he was ready to conduct another round of talks between representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the rebels, according to The Associated Press.
The AP quotes a spokesman for the separatists’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as saying that rebel forces were leaving the city after a Ukrainian army offensive that left the town “in ruins.”
The BBC quotes witnesses as saying there was bombing overnight and that in the morning, rebel-manned checkpoints were found abandoned.
According to the BBC:
“Interior Minister Arsen Avakov earlier said on Facebook that a large number of insurgents had left Sloviansk.
He said the rebels were “suffering losses and surrendering” after being met by Ukrainian forces.
“Mr Avakov said ‘some intelligence suggests’ that the military commander of the self-declared Donetsk Peoples’ Republic (DPR), Igor Strelkov, was among those leaving, but this has not been confirmed.
“The commander, whose real name is Igor Girkin, is accused by Ukraine’s government and the European Union of being a Russian military intelligence officer.”
A rebel commander who would only give his nom de guerre as Pinochet told The Associated Press that rebels had fallen back to the nearby town of Kramatorsk, 12 miles south of Slovyansk.