Daily Telegraph, London, on January 24, 2015, reported that war was escalating as 27 civilians were killed in rocket attack. Kiev said Moscow was sending more soldiers and hardware across the border. Excerpts below:
The war in eastern Ukraine is escalating after months of skirmishes. On January 24, 27 civilians were reportedly killed and 97 injured when Grad rockets fell on a neighbourhood of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Government forces are struggling to resist a rebel offensive after the separatists were apparently engorged by fresh supplies of weapons and men provided by Russia.
On January 23 the separatists’ leader announced he was abandoning peace talks and launching a new multi-pronged attack against Ukrainian government troops – striking out from Donetsk and other rebel-held ground, and signalling the final collapse of a peace deal signed in September 2014.
“Attempts to talk about a ceasefire will no longer be undertaken by our side,” said Alexander Zakharchenko, who is head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Mr Zakharchenko said rebel militia were on the advance in three directions in Donetsk region and also pushing forward in two other areas in the Luhansk region.
A Ukrainian military spokesman said on January 24 that rebels had shelled government forces and attacked checkpoints near the town of Debaltsevo.
Stepan Poltorak, Ukraine’s defence minister, said: “In the last 24 hours the situation has worsened along the whole front: from Lugansk region to Mariupol, illegal armed groups [rebels] are on the attack everywhere.”
More than 5,000 people have died since the revolt in Donbas, or eastern Ukraine, broke out in April.
Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer battalions squeezed back the rebels to a small corner of the southeast of Ukraine last summer after the separatists made initial advances. A Russian military incursion across the countries’ common border helped the separatists regain some territory in September. Infantry clashes and frequent exchanges of shelling have continued ever since, despite an agreement reached that month in Minsk, Belarus, to withdraw from the front line and hand over prisoners.
Now the rebels are on the offensive, while Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, claimed last week that Russia had up to 9,000 men in the conflict zone – something Moscow denies.
Moscow has also sent tanks into the conflict: “We’ve seen one T-90, which only Russia has, and heard the engines of many T-72s, which couldn’t be trophies taken from us because we have very few in service.”
Last week, Kiev announced it was calling up 50,000 reservists in order to combat the latest bout of “Russian aggression”.
Capt Ozirny, a businessman from Kiev who sells fuel pellets in civilian life and who served in Ukraine’s National Guard in the 1990s, joined up in September.
He is realistic about the task ahead. “Have you ever seen a Russian tank park? They have whole hectares of the things,” he said. “Whenever Russia sends the rebels some weapons they activate and that’s what we’re seeing now.”
So can Ukrainian forces withstand a fresh offensive by the separatists and their allies from Russia? “I believe we will win,” said the captain. “This is our soil. Every chunk of earth is ours. We won’t let anyone come and take it away.”
The company arrived at the front in December but has seen its fiercest action in the last fortnight near and at Donetsk Airport,… “We were hiding in the hangars five kilometres (three miles) away and coming out to closer positions to fire on the rebel infantry in the old terminal,” said Gunner Igor Dreychuk. “Once I managed 28 shells in seven minutes.”
Built at a cost of about £540m for the Euro 2012 football tournament, the Donetsk Sergei Prokofiev International Airport – named after the composer born nearby – now stand in ruins….
Analysts say the building had some strategic significance as a defensive position or a potential foothold on the edge of the city, but that became eroded with time as its tower and terminals were shredded by artillery.
Despite its dubious advantages, victory at the airport became a coveted prize for both sides as a symbol of their dominance.
Ukrainian troops, known as “cyborgs” for their tenacity, were forced to leave the building last week after months of fighting against militia led by “Motorola” and “Givi”, two commanders lionised by the separatists.
Sixteen Ukrainian combatants were reportedly taken prisoner and many more died in the final attack by the rebels. “The numbers are very high but they’re being suppressed in order to avoid panic,” said one Ukrainian activist.
Further behind the lines to the north of Donetsk at a base in the town of Kostiantynivka the Telegraph spoke to Ruslan Krivitsyn, a company commander in Ukraine’s 90th Air Assault Battalion. He spent 24 days fighting at the airport, leaving earlier this month, a few days before the final, desperate exchanges.
Ukrainian forces were redeploying in villages and towns to the northwest of Donetsk late on January 23. In many places, roads were devoid of civilian cars and partridges whirred out of snow drifts. But here and there, columns of up to a dozen self-propelled artillery units were on the move, as well as tanks, Uragan rocket launchers and military trucks.
Meanwhile, Roman Turovets, a spokesman for what Kiev calls its “antiterrorist operation” said the flow of Russian troops and military vehicles in southeast Ukraine had become “practically uninterrupted”. A number of Russian soldiers were captured on January 23, he said.