The Ukrainian Army has launched an offensive in the east to regain buildings seized by pro-Russian forces. Slovyansk and Mariupol are the two main targets of the fighting today.
The Ukrainian interim authorities said Thursday that “civilian activists” had regained control of City Hall in the southeastern city of Mariupol, forcing pro-Russian protesters to leave without bloodshed.
There was no independent corroboration of the account, published by the interior minister, Arsen Avakov, on Facebook. News reports offered a different version of the events, saying that the building had been stormed by masked men who used baseball bats to beat the occupiers.
Also on Thursday, Ukrainian troops backed by five light armored vehicles seized a checkpoint north of the eastern city of Slovyansk, a stronghold of pro-Russian militants in the east, after forces aligned with Moscow appeared to abandon it, Reuters said. There were also reports that Ukrainian forces were seeking to move against the occupied City Hall in Slovyansk.
The BBC reports that five people have been killed:
One roadblock near Sloviansk, in Donetsk region, could be seen on fire amid reports that separatists had abandoned it when Ukrainian soldiers approached.But RT says that the operation reveals the depths to which the Ukrainian government is in disarray, with people within the General Staff leaking information to the Russian press.
As many as five separatists were killed, according to Ukraine's interior ministry. An aide to Sloviansk's self-appointed mayor said two people had died.
The centre of Sloviansk itself was relatively calm, BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg reported. Several pro-Russian armed foot patrols were on the streets but people were out walking, he said.
A source in Ukraine’s Joint General Staff has told RIA Novosti that the operation against Slavyansk has been planned by the country’s Security Service, the SBU, and that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is no longer responsible for the operation.If true, it shows signs of a power struggle within the Ukrainian government, which is seeking to regain control of the situation. Civilians in Slovyansk have been ordered to stay inside.
The groups storming Slavyansk consist of approximately 5,000 militants of the far-right nationalist Right Sector movement, either acting on their own as terror groups or operating as National Guards, the source said. These groups are being supplied with NATO intelligence and aerial photos of the region. The data is being delivered by couriers to avoid interception.
Kiev is not planning to deploy regular troops into the mutinous regions, as the soldiers have been refusing to fight against their own people. The SBU has also deployed up to 500 troops from special forces groups to the area, the source said.
Police has announced the beginning of the crackdown via loudspeakers and a special vehicle is currently patrolling the streets warning local people about the crackdown.
The local citizens in the city are preparing for the Kiev crackdown. The majority of shops, kindergartens and schools have been closed in the city. Only the shops selling bread and water remain open.
“Around 40 minutes ago fighting started on the outskirts of Slavyansk,” one of the leaders of self-defense forces, Miroslav Rudenko, told Interfax, "We are checking reports of one dead and one injured. There are shootings at a number of checkpoints at some of Slavyansk exit-roads.”An enraged Putin was quick to respond.
Rudenko said it was impossible to reach self-defense leaders in Slavyansk by phone, suspecting that mobile phone connection could have been switched off.
“If the Kiev regime started military actions against the country’s population, this is without doubt a very serious crime,” Putin said at All-Russia People's Front media forum.
“If current authorities in Kiev have done this [used force], then they are junta,” the president said. “For one thing, they don’t have nation-wide mandate. They might have some elements of legitimacy, but only within the framework of the parliament. The rest of the government bodies are for various reasons illegitimate.”
Vladimir Putin described the use of force in eastern Ukraine as a “reprisal raid” and said that it would have an impact on Russian-Ukrainian relations.Many of the pro-Russian insurgents, including the Duck Dynasty character who was allegedly in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, have been identified. They are not Russian special forces, but Russian nationalists, Cossacks, and other foreign nationals. The Duck Dynasty character was interviewed by Time; he is actually wanted for crimes back home in Russia.
The website Ukrainian Policy:
From the identified militants, a few notes can be made from the following gunmen who appear to be connected to the raids in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. For one, not all are from Russia. While some may be local radicals, others appear to come from Belorechensk in Russia, or have connections to related neo-Cossack groups. This does not necessarily exonerate Russian state involvement, however. While it’s been known that military veterans and Russian ‘tourists’ have been actively involved for some time, the presence of Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation connects Russia officially to the ongoing crisis. Registered Cossack organizations enjoy financial and organizational support from the authorities, including monthly salary as police auxiliaries. This, of course, isn’t the first controversial deployment of Cossack forces, who made a name for themselves on the world stage enforcing the law in Sochi.Time on the Duck Dynasty character:
Though he would have liked to have served in the Russian special forces, he says his service was in the regular Russian army, and it ended in the mid-1990s, when he attained the rank of staff sergeant. His reasons for coming to Ukraine in March had a bit to do with Russian nationalism, but more to do with adventurism, and even more to do with his apparently being a fugitive from Russian law. Earlier this year, Mozhaev said, just as a revolution was forcing Ukraine’s old regime from power, he was charged in Krasnodar with a violent crime — which he described as “threatening to kill someone with a knife.” When he failed to come up with the bribe money for the corrupt officials who he says fabricated the charges, Mozhaev was put on a national wanted list in Russia and went on the run, according to his account, which could not be verified.But the Kyiv Post today reports on a Youtube video that says that Russian high-level operatives are behind the present chaos.
Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has released a YouTube video it says implicates high-ranking Russian Military Intelligence officers in the April 17 abduction and subsequent killing of Horlivka City Councilman Volodymyr Rybak.
The first part of the video allegedly shows a recording of Russian Military Intelligence Lieutenant Colonel Igor Bezlier ordering a subordinate to abduct Rybak, tie his hands and blindfold him while driving him away to a remote place so that he could rendezvous with the captors.The train wreck in Ukraine continues. All sides continue to be happy with the chaos.
In the second part of the recording, Russian Military Intelligence Colonel Igor Strelkov – who the SBU says is coordinating the Kremlin-backed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine – calls Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk, “to come and pick up (Rybak’s) body because it is starting to stink.”
In response, Ponomaryov complies, and says he will come to take and “bury the punk.” – Mark Rachkevych