Saturday 24 February 2018

Pro-Russia rebels kill at least 14 soldiers at checkpoint

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an Armoured Perssonel Carrier (APC) as they drive through the site where pro-Russian rebels killed thirteen Ukrainian servicemen on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, south of Donetsk. Reuters
Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an Armoured Perssonel Carrier (APC) as they drive through the site where pro-Russian rebels killed thirteen Ukrainian servicemen on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, south of Donetsk. Reuters
An Ukrainian soldier secures an area near the site where pro-Russian rebels killed thirteen Ukrainian servicemen in the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, south of Donetsk. Reuters
Pro-Russian gunmen atop of an armored personnel carrier with the words read 'Battalion Vostok (East)' patrol a street in Donetsk, Ukraine. One rebel leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, retaliated Tuesday by threatening to nationalize Akhmetovs assets over his refusal to pay taxes to the Donetsk Peoples Republic. AP
Ukrainian soldiers remove debris from an area where pro-Russian rebels killed thirteen Ukrainian servicemen on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, south of Donetsk. Reuters
A Ukrainian coal miner smiles, after finishing his shift at a coal mine outside Donetsk, Ukraine. While steel worker in Mariupol joined anti-separatist actions, miners refused to take part in a planned protest against the Donetsk People's Republic. AP

Roland Oliphant in Kiev

Ukraine's army suffered its heaviest losses since the start of the conflict in the east when pro-Russian rebels killed at least 14 soldiers in Donetsk region.

The assault yesterday is another setback for the new government in Kiev, which is trying to secure Donetsk before a presidential election on Sunday.

The bloodshed came in the early hours of the morning, when an unknown number of gunmen attacked soldiers manning a checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha, 30 miles south of the regional capital, Donetsk.

Local people said the attackers were hidden inside an armoured bank van, which the soldiers waved through the checkpoint outside the village of Blahodatne. The insurgents then jumped out and opened fire, shooting their targets at point-blank range.

Three of the army's armoured fighting vehicles were destroyed, their turrets blown off, and up to 30 soldiers wounded. Afterwards, bodies covered in blankets could be seen strewn around in fields close to the road.

This checkpoint on a country road was one of the dozens established by rival security forces and pro-Russian rebels as they struggle for control of Donetsk region, which covers 10,000 square miles and has 4.5 million people. Raids on checkpoints have become a routine feature of the conflict since the government launched an 'anti-terrorist' operation against the insurgents last month.

Instead of expelling the rebels from the dozen or so towns and cities where they occupy public buildings, this offensive has involved a series of defeats.

Exactly who was behind yesterday's attack – the most serious to date – remains unclear, with the Kiev government claiming Russian soldiers may have been directly involved.

Blame

But Pavel Gubarev, a pro-Russian leader of the so-called 'Donetsk People's Republic', denied his men were responsible and blamed Pravy Sektor, a far-right Ukrainian paramilitary group.

However, another rebel commander flatly contradicted this denial and said that his men had carried out the raid.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, saying that he had evidence of Russian involvement in the attack.

The violence comes as Ukraine prepares to elect a new president on Sunday. Rebels in Donetsk and the neighbouring region of Luhansk declared the birth of a pro-Russian 'People's Republic' earlier this month after staging a referendum on independence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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