A pro-Russian separatist from the Vostok (East) battalion
sits atop a T-64 tank in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Moscow separatists battled to break through lines of
government forces near the border with Russia in eastern
Ukraine, and a tentative step towards agreeing a ceasefire in
the intensifying three-month conflict failed.
Fighting has escalated sharply since Ukrainian forces pushed
rebels out of their stronghold in the town of Slaviansk 10
days ago. The past several days have seen Russia and Ukraine
trade accusations of firing across the border.
Ukraine's military said 11 more troops were killed in the
space of 24 hours, mostly in clashes near the frontier.
Ukraine has been trying to put down a revolt by heavily-armed
fighters, many of them from Russia, who have sought
independence for two eastern provinces since April.
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March after a
pro-Russian president was ousted in Kiev. Moscow denies
supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine, but Kiev says
many of the fighters and their leaders have travelled from
Russia and brought heavy weapons across the border.
Ukrainian troops have focussed their efforts in recent days
on securing the frontier to prevent the arrival of more
fighters and weapons. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's
defence and security council, told journalists the
separatists had attacked government positions along the
Government troops had been ambushed by separatists at
Izvarino on the border and there had been early morning
clashes near the border settlement of Stepanivka when
separatists tried to break out of encirclement by the army,
"There was tank and mortar fire and from rockets on positions
of the (Ukrainian) 'anti-terrorist operation'," Lysenko said.
The number of casualties was being established.
Two days after the downing of a government An-26 transport
plane, Ukrainian warplanes had been given the go-ahead to
resume flights over the east, Lysenko said. Kiev says it
believes the transporter was hit by a missile fired from
A separate SU-25 fighter plane was hit by a rebel rocket on
Wednesday, but the pilot made a successful emergency landing
and there was only slight damage to the aircraft, the defence
ministry said. No-one was hurt.
The escalation in recent days has once more raised the
prospect that Moscow could intervene directly in Ukraine,
after weeks in which President Vladimir Putin had appeared
keen to disengage. Putin had withdrawn tens of thousands of
troops he had massed at the frontier, but Kiev says their
numbers have again been rising as troops are returning to the
In telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela
Merkel and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko set out evidence of
fighters crossing into Ukraine from Russia with heavy
military equipment, his website said.
"Everything which is happening in Ukraine has been planned by
Russia since 2004. Putin has a clear plan and that is to
destroy Ukraine and establish his influence over post-Soviet
space," Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said in a speech
carried by his website.
Around 270 Ukrainian servicemen and hundreds of civilians and
rebels have been killed since the government launched an
"anti-terrorist" operation in April to crush the rebels.
Lysenko said that in Slaviansk, the former rebel stronghold
re-taken by government forces this month, "hundreds of bodies
of...(rebel) fighters" had been found in shallow graves.
"Some of these graves have been mined by the terrorists," he
said. He gave no further details. The government has given
high figures for rebel casualties in the past that could not
Efforts to forge a truce have so far failed. A "contact
group" of officials from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization
for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it tried
on Tuesday to re-activate peace talks - but a planned video
link-up with separatists never materialised.
"In the opinion of the contact group, this indicates a lack
of willingness on the side of separatists to engage in
substantive talks on a mutually agreed ceasefire," it said in
a statement. It urged separatists to return to talks
Aleksander Borodai, "prime minister" of the rebels'
self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, later told
journalists the video-link might now take place on Thursday
evening. There was no immediate confirmation of this from the
Since losing Slaviansk, hundreds of rebel fighters have moved
to the industrial city of Donetsk, vowing to make a stand.
The city which had a pre-conflict population of nearly 1
million, has been steadily emptying as thousands, fearing a
government offensive, have fled.
There are now fewer and fewer people out on the streets and
few cars in what was once a bustling city. Most banks, shops
and bars have closed, cash-dispensers have been switched off
and street traffic lights no longer work.
Lyudmila, 35, who was leaving Donetsk, said: "I have been
forced to gather up my things and get away from this lawless
genocide. I am simply saving my children. My husband is
staying behind. I have left my home and my work. I am leaving
to save my children."