Ukraine elite troops sent to Odessa port
Ukraine sent an elite national guard unit to re-establish control today over the southern port of Odessa as government troops fought pitched gun battles with a pro-Russia militia around an eastern city.
The twin moves reflected an apparent escalation of efforts to bring both regions back under Kiev's control. The possible double loss of Odessa in the southwest and parts of eastern Ukraine could be catastrophic for the new government, leaving the country landlocked, cut off entirely from the Black Sea.
Ukraine already lost a significant part of its coastline in March, when its Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia.
Gunfire and multiple explosions rang out in and around Slovyansk, a city of 125,000 that has become the focus of the armed insurgency against the new interim government in Kiev.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement that government troops were battling about 800 pro-Russia forces that were using large-calibre weapons and mortars. His agency said four officers were killed and 30 wounded in the fighting.
Pro-Russia militias said at least eight people, both insurgents and local residents, were killed. A militia spokesman three of 10 people admitted with gunshot wounds to a hospital in Slovyansk had died. Five more were killed during fighting in the village of Semenivka.
Ukraine is facing its worst crisis in decades after its Russia-leaning president, who hails from Ukraine's industrial east, fled to Russia in February following months of street protests. Those eastern regions that favour closer links to Russia are now at odds with Ukraine's western and central areas, which seek closer ties with Europe and largely support the new interim government in Kiev.
The West has offered billions of dollars in loans to help the Kiev government stave off economic collapse. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Ukraine expects to receive more than five billion dollars (£2.96bn) this month, according to a statement.. This includes 3 billion dollars (£1.77bn) from the International Monetary Fund, 1 billion dollars (£592m) from the United States and up to 1 billion euros (£822m) from the European Union.
The international community has accused Russia of fomenting the unrest in an attempt to destabilise Ukraine and derail the country's May 25 presidential elections. Russia, however, has vociferously condemned Ukraine's security operations in the east and blamed the central government in Kiev for not preventing the Odessa fire.
Today, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a 70-page report listing what it described as human rights violations by "ultranationalist, neo-Nazi and extremist forces" in Ukraine. The Kremlin wrote that the ministry report "confirms that ... violations of basic human rights in Ukraine have become widespread."