KIEV, UKRAINE: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised to continue a military offensive against pro-Russian rebels after his forces retook a key insurgent stronghold.
Recovering Slovyansk in the battle-torn eastern part of the country is the biggest victory so far in Ukraine’s anti-rebel campaign, with Poroshenko giving orders Friday to raise the Ukrainian flag there.
Poroshenko said he would tighten the circle around the insurgents in the east. The offensive has already taken back large swaths of territory there.
“This is not the final victory, and no time for fireworks,” Poroshenko said in a statement on the president’s website. “This is the beginning of a crucial moment in the combat against insurgents.”
Clashes between the rebels and Ukrainian forces continued in the east, which borders on Russia, including a fight for control of the Donetsk airport. There was no word on when internationally sponsored peace talks may resume.
“The situation is very tough,” Poroshenko said in the statement. “There are a lot of tests ahead.”
Ukrainian authorities said Friday that they controlled almost two-thirds of the country’s eastern districts.
The months-long conflict is coming to a head after Poroshenko sent troops to oust the rebels from the mainly Russian-speaking border regions. Poroshenko had predicted a new round of international peace talks, though there was no word on when that might take place.
Andrei Purgin, deputy premier of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said the rebels had to leave positions in Slovyansk “to save 45,000 civilians that are still located there” as well as because of the superiority of the Ukraine forces. He said the rebels may take part in peace talks with Ukraine’s authorities if Russia and the European Union initiate consultations and act as mediators.
The Interfax news service reported fighting between rebels and Ukrainian soldiers for control of the Donetsk airport.
Ukraine’s State Border Service said on its website that about 15 rebels attacked a monitoring post near the Sea of Azov in the far southeast, killing one border guard and wounding eight others. In a separate clash, one Ukrainian soldier was killed and four wounded in a fight near Karachun Mountain in the Slovyansk area, the military said on its Facebook page.
Seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six wounded in a fight with separatists near a village in the Donetsk region, the military said.
National Security Council chief Andriy Parubiy said in Kiev that Ukrainian forces had recaptured 17 cities and villages since the military operation began, including four villages after a cease-fire ended on July 1, and controlled 23 of the 36 districts in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
As government forces dislodge rebels from a swath of territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russia is sending weapons across the frontier and allowing militants to attack border checkpoints from its territory, Ukrainian security officials said.
Russia rejects the “tired and unsubstantiated” accusations that it’s arming insurgents, according to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.
The Ukrainian president said a cease-fire is only possible after he gets confirmation it will be honored by separatists. Poroshenko has blamed the insurgents for breaking the 10-day truce more than 100 times.
Russia denounced the intensified Ukrainian military campaign.