New York Times
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine - The Ukrainian government on Sunday for the first time sent in its security services to confront armed pro-Russian militants in the country's east, defying warnings from Russia.
Commandos engaged in gunfights with men who had set up roadblocks and stormed a Ukrainian police station in Slovyansk, and at least one officer was killed, Ukrainian officials said.
Several officers were injured in the operation, as were four locals, the officials said. Russian news media and residents here disputed that account, saying the Ukrainian forces had only briefly engaged one checkpoint.
In either case, the central government in Kiev has turned to force to try to restore its authority in the east, a course of action that the Russian government has warned against. With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along Ukraine's eastern border near Donetsk, Western leaders have worried that Moscow might use unrest in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking areas as a pretext for an invasion.
Both governments intensified their statements Sunday. Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov , issued another ultimatum, saying separatists should vacate occupied buildings by today or face a "large-scale antiterrorist operation" that will include the Ukrainian military. And Russia claimed that the Ukrainian government was cracking down at the behest of U.S. and European officials.
Ukraine's ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, speaking Sunday in the Russian southern city of Rostov-on-Don, echoed Moscow's charges of U.S. meddling.
The police station contested by Ukrainian forces was one of several security centers in the eastern region of Donetsk seized Saturday by masked gunmen in coordinated raids that the Ukrainian authorities denounced as Russian "aggression."
By Sunday afternoon, the government's push to reassert its authority in a vitally important industrial and coal-mining region appeared to have made little headway. Pro-Russian protesters appeared to control not only the police station but the entire town of Slovyansk, having set up checkpoints at major streets leading into town.
The protesters blocked a major highway in the east, and flags of Russia and their newly declared and unrecognized People's Republic of Donetsk flew over administrative buildings in several other midsize towns. These included Mariupol, where protesters seized another building Sunday.
Roman Svitan, a security adviser to the Ukrainian authorities in Donetsk, said the operation Sunday was carried out by Alfa, a special services unit of Ukraine's state security service. He gave an upbeat assessment of its progress, saying Ukrainian forces had evicted gunmen from the Slovyansk police headquarters, though protesters there said nothing of the sort had happened.
Svitan said most of the expelled gunmen were local pro-Russian extremists but they had also included Russian operatives.
Residents and men standing by barricades in Slovyansk denied that Ukrainian forces had even entered the town Sunday. They said one local man who had been out fishing was in a hospital with a wound from a shooting on a highway outside of town. Russian television and some locals said the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector had attacked protesters at a checkpoint, injuring the fisherman.
Requests to speak to a leader of the armed men produced a man wearing a ski mask who introduced himself as Alexander and described himself as a deputy commander of the city of Slovyansk after its merger with the People's Republic of Donetsk.
He gave a different account of the circumstances behind the wounding of the fisherman, saying he was struck by Ukrainian armored personnel carriers that opened fire on a barrier made from a pile of tires on the edge of town, then drove away.
Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a blistering denunciation of the Ukrainian government, saying actions in Kiev were being carried out "with direct support from the United States and Europe."
At Russia's request, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council was scheduled for Sunday night, at which Ukraine's ambassador was expected to articulate its version of events.
In Washington, the State Department took the unusual step of issuing a "fact sheet" alleging that Russian officials had made 10 false claims about the crisis in Ukraine. The department said more than a dozen Russian intelligence agents have been arrested by the Ukrainian government in recent weeks, contradicting Moscow's assertion that its agents were not active in Ukraine.
Protest in Moscow criticizes TV coverage
More than 10,000 people turned out in Moscow on Sunday for an anti-Kremlin rally to denounce Russian state television's news coverage, particularly of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine. In promoting the Kremlin line, state television has portrayed the new pro-Western government in Ukraine as a "fascist junta" under the control of the U.S. government and determined to oppress Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. Some of those who took part in the demonstration, called a "March of Truth," carried blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. One woman held up a sign with Russian President Vladimir Putin's picture and the words: "Stop lying." Among those who spoke to the crowd was Andrei Zubov, a history professor who was fired from one of Moscow's most prestigious universities after criticizing Russia's military intervention in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.