CHERVONOPARTIZANSK, Ukraine — Border guards here, near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine, fled their posts for fear of attacks by separatist militias Wednesday, helping open a strategic corridor for the transport of goods, contraband and war material from Russia that could lead to a widening of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
As evening fell, a convoy of about 20 trucks, minivans and cars containing border guards and their families bumped over the rutted roads here along Ukraine's eastern frontier with Russia. Their commander, who gave his name only as Sergei, said they had received confused orders — one to remain and another to go — but decided to leave, fearing for their lives and their families' safety.
Earlier Wednesday, rebels overran the border guards' central command headquarters in Luhansk, unplugging a large stretch of Ukraine's southeastern border from central government oversight. A number of border guards were wounded in the siege that lasted two days and left the complex windowless, riddled with bullets, and partly burned. Rebels hauled away boxes of weapons and other items Wednesday.
Against this background, Ukraine's military reported gains in the area around Slovyansk, a rebel stronghold that is now almost entirely encircled by government forces.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian troops swept into the city of Krasny Liman, a railroad hub to the northeast of Slovyansk, seizing the southern half of the city.
The military has reported hundreds of rebel deaths. The rebels have put their losses at about a dozen.
Ukraine's border with Russia has become a focal point in the unrest in this country's troubled East, as fresh supplies and fighters from Russia have been leaking across. An open passage would allow goods and fighters to flow from Russia unimpeded.