Ukrainian troops are pictured near the eastern Ukrainian
town of Seversk. Photo by Reuters
Ukrainian war planes have bombarded separatists along a
broad front, inflicting huge losses, Kiev said, after President
Petro Poroshenko said "scores and hundreds" would be made to
pay for a deadly missile attack on Ukrainian forces.
In exchanges marking a sharp escalation in the three-month
conflict, jets struck at the "epicentre" of the battle
against rebels near the border with Russia, a military
The planes targeted positions from where separatists, using
high-powered Grad missiles, bombarded an army motorised
brigade on Friday (local time), killing 23 servicemen.
Warplanes also struck at targets near Donetsk, the east's
main town where rebels have dug in, destroying a powerful
fighter base near Dzerzhinsk, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for
the "anti-terrorist operation" said.
"According to preliminary assessment, Ukrainian pilots ...
killed about 500 (rebel) fighters and damaged two armoured
transporters," Lysenko told journalists.
In an earlier air attack on a base near Perevalsk, north of
Donetsk, two tanks, 10 armoured vehicles and "about 500"
rebel fighters were destroyed, he said.
Rebel representatives, quoted by Russian news agencies,
denied they suffered big losses and said the Ukrainians were
using outdated intelligence on where separatist forces were
"There were no volunteers (rebels) where the Ukrainian
aviation was active yesterday," said a spokeswoman for the
Luhansk-based separatists, referring to the Peravalsk attack.
Earlier, the border guard service said jet fighters were
scrambled to strike at the pro-Russian separatists after they
resumed missile attacks on government forces deployed near
the frontier with Russia, south-east of the city of Luhansk.
In the military action, which began on Friday evening and
continued well into Saturday, five Ukrainian servicemen were
killed, Lysenko said. There were 16 overflights by Ukrainian
fighter jets in all, he said.
The surge in violence on Ukraine's border with Russia, south
east of Luhansk which is controlled by separatists, sparked
fresh Ukrainian accusations against Russia of involvement in
the border fighting.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry demanded Russia stop supporting
armed groups in its eastern region, and end "provocations" on
"The Russian side cynically disregards the fact that
Ukrainian servicemen and peaceful civilians are being killed
at the hands of terrorists whom it is supporting," the
Foreign Ministry said.
"But, on the other hand Russian border guards complained in a
letter about Russian household pets being killed by a
supposed Ukrainian artillery shell, 500 metres (yards) from
Rebels had also carried out mortar and missile bombardment of
army checkpoints at Dyakove and Nyzhnoderevechka near
Luhansk, the "anti-terrorist operation" said.
Journalists based in Donetsk said Ukrainian forces shelled
Maryinka, a suburb, on Friday night and apartment blocks bore
traces of fire on Saturday.
Igor Strelkov, separatist commander in Donetsk, said his men
had headed off a plan to move fighters and armour into the
area. Subsequent Ukrainian shelling had killed 30 civilians
and the number of casualties could rise, he said.
Vladyslav Seleznyov, main spokesman for the "anti-terrorist
operation", said the violence there had been caused by rebels
out to discredit the Ukrainian armed forces.
Poroshenko, whose forces recently seemed to be prevailing
over the rebels, vowed on Friday to "find and destroy" rebels
responsible for the missile attack at Zelenopillya, which
also wounded nearly 100 and was one of the deadliest yet
against government forces.
NEW SENSE OF URGENCY
The increasing violence will bring a new sense of urgency to
diplomatic attempts to end the worst crisis between Russia
and the West since the Cold War.
After a pro-Western revolt in Kiev ousted a Moscow-backed
president in February, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean
peninsula and pro-Russian separatists seized strategic
buildings in towns in the Russian-speaking east, setting up
"people's republics" and declaring they wanted to join
More than 200 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since
then, and hundreds of civilians and rebels have also died.
The United States and the European Union have brought in
limited sanctions against Russian businesses amid Ukrainian
allegations that Moscow has fanned the conflict and turned a
blind eye to military equipment and Russian fighters crossing
On Saturday, the EU targeted 11 Ukrainian separatist leaders
with travel bans and asset freezes, swerving away from fresh
sanctions on Russian business to avoid antagonising its main
The rebels' missile strike on Friday at a motorised brigade
was against part of a contingent of troops sent to the area
specifically to try to block military equipment and guns
being brought in from Russia to help the rebels.
Rebel fighters said Ukrainian fighter planes had also carried
out air strikes on Saturday in the eastern town of Horlivka.
"There were a series of powerful explosions. Details are
being clarified," a separatist representative, Konstantin
Knyrik, was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news
EYES ON CONTACT GROUP
Friday's military setback at Zelenopillya took the gloss off
the government's recapture of the rebel stronghold of
Slaviansk last weekend.
The Ukrainian military, following the Slaviansk victory, says
it has readied a plan to oust the rebels now from Donetsk, a
city of 900,000 people where separatist forces are dug in.
Poroshenko has said the military plan will be aimed at
protecting civilians there and had appeared to rule out the
use of air strikes and artillery to crush the rebels.
Poroshenko, who was also urged by German Chancellor Angela
Merkel to use a sense of proportion in actions against the
separatists, had further talks on Friday with Donetsk mayor
Aleksander Lukyanchenko on the issue.
Western allies and Russia are pressing for a new meeting of
the 'contact group' involving separatist leaders to try to
negotiate an end to the crisis.
Poroshenko says he has proposed various venues for the talks
but has said there will be no repeat of a 10-day unilateral
ceasefire by government forces which lapsed on June 30.
The Ukrainian government says that ceasefire was repeatedly
violated by the rebels and that more than 20 Ukrainian
servicemen were killed while it was in force.