Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ukrainian government vows more military action against separatists

DONETSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government vowed to push ahead Wednesday with military operations against pro-Russian separatists in the embattled east of the country after a big show of strength routing rebels from this city's international airport.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's president-elect, said the "antiterrorist operation" against the rebels, whom he has likened to Somali pirates, "has finally really begun." In an interview with Germany's Bild newspaper, Poroshenko, 48, said he was in close contact with the Ukrainian interim government in Kiev.

Ukraine's military on Tuesday used Soviet-era fighter jets and attack helicopters to pound rebels and retake Donetsk's Sergei Prokofiev International Airport. The rebels, who said they suffered a heavy loss of life in the two-day operation, had seized the airport, the nation's second largest, in this eastern city on Monday, a day after Ukraine's presidential and mayoral elections.

Exchanges of machine-gun fire and explosions continued near the airport Wednesday.

Poroshenko, one of Ukraine's richest tycoons, convincingly won the May 25 presidential election in the first round. He said after his victory that he wants to pursue talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although he accused Russia of instigating the violence in the east.

"Russia's goal was, and is, to keep Ukraine so unstable that we accept everything that the Russians want," Poroshenko said in the interview. "I have no doubt that Putin could, with his direct influence, end the fighting."

Poroshenko said he intended to call on the United States for military supplies and training. He spoke Tuesday to President Barack Obama and was scheduled to meet with him in Europe next week.

In eastern Ukraine, Donetsk Mayor Aleksandr Lukyanchenko said on his website that the city, the capital of a region declared a sovereign republic by separatists after a chaotic referendum on self-rule, was "relatively calm" Wednesday morning.

But in the town of Marinka, about 20 miles west of Donetsk, 11 monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by an unidentified armed group for about seven hours Wednesday after being stopped at a roadblock, OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.

He said the monitors, including one American, were released Wednesday evening under unclear circumstances and were escorted back to Donetsk. They had been on their way to another part of the country for security reasons, Bociurkiw said.

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