Ukraine’s military has launched an airstrike on pro-Russian separatists who seized an airport in the eastern city of Donetsk. The country’s newly-elected president has indicated a willingness to hold talks with Moscow.
Machine-gun fire and explosions could be heard at the airport in Donetsk on Monday as black smoke billowed overhead. The attack was a rapid response from the military after the rebels stormed the airport earlier in the day in an apparent sign of defiance to Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday.
Authorities issued an ultimatum for the rebels to leave. Military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashyvskiy said the army then launched an “anti-terror” operation after the expiry of that ultimatum. Fighter jets and attack helicopters strafed the area with heavy firepower, before paratroopers were flown in to recapture the airport.
Many flights to and from Donetsk, a city of one million, were delayed or canceled on Monday, and access to the airport was blocked by police.
The facility was evacuated and sealed off after gunmen claiming to be from the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” showed up and demanded Ukrainian troops guarding the perimeter be withdrawn. The last scheduled flight was allowed to leave the airport at 7:00 a.m. (0400 UTC) and airport spokesman Dmytro Kosinov said he did “not know when we will be up working again.”
Poroshenko focuses on east
In Kyiv, President-elect Petro Poroshenko said a day after winning election to Ukraine’s top political office that to achieve stability on the country’s restive east would require Moscow’s involvement.
“I hope that Russia will support efforts to tackle the situation in the east,” the billionaire confectionary tycoon told a news conference, adding that Kyiv was ready to meet with separatists who had laid down there arms, but not “terrorists” who threaten the security of the state.
Poroshenko has said his first step as president will be to travel to eastern Donbass industrial region, where pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings, declared independence and fought with government troops.
Although he says “peace in the country and peace in the east” is his “main priority,” the president-elect told reporters that he wanted to continue Ukraine’s military offensive, but make it more “efficient.”
“I support continuing the operation, but I demand that its format be changed,” Poroshenko said. “It must be shorter in terms of time-frames and more efficient.”
dr/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)