Ukrainian Army Retreats from Donetsk Airport

A drone image of the Donetsk airport, provided by a Ukrainian group calling itself Army.SOS. The runways have not been usable for several months. (Army.SOS, via Reuters)
A drone image of the Donetsk airport, provided by a Ukrainian group calling itself Army.SOS. The runways have not been usable for several months. (Army.SOS, via Reuters)

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from Donetsk airport’s main terminal, scene of bitter fighting in recent weeks.

The government said the military still retained control of parts of the airport, but six soldiers had died and 16 had been wounded.

In the centre of the rebel-held city, shelling hit a bus, killing 13 people.

A spokesman for the president said he had called an emergency meeting to discuss the rebel attacks, which Kiev believes are backed by Russia.

It was the second such meeting of the day.

“The plan how we will secure the end of operation of terrorist troops with the participation of regular troops of the Russian Federation… how to regroup forces and stop the aggression” will be adopted on Wednesday evening, Reuters news agency quoted President Petro Poroshenko as saying.

Earlier rebels paraded captured Ukrainian soldiers at the scene of the bus shelling, as onlookers shouted abuse and pelted them with debris from the blast site.

The rebels and the government traded blame for the attack, which comes nine days after a shell also killed 13 people on a bus in the village of Buhas outside Volnovakha, 35km (22 miles) south-west of Donetsk.

Fighting between the army and Russian-backed separatists has intensified in and around Donetsk as well as further east in Luhansk region.

The deaths come after Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany issued a joint call to end fighting in the east.

They also agreed on a line of demarcation between separatists and government forces from which both sides are meant to withdraw their forces, but so far this has not been carried out.


The airport just outside Donetsk, which has been reduced to rubble, has taken on symbolic value for both separatists and the government over the winter.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said 20 Ukrainian soldiers had withdrawn from the main terminal because their positions had been destroyed and they were under direct shelling.

The loss of the main terminal is a major blow to pro-Kiev forces and will send political shockwaves back to the capital, the BBC’s David Stern reports from Kiev.

The defence ministry blamed separatists for the shelling of the trolleybus in the city centre, saying their own forces were 15km away. But the rebels blamed pro-government “saboteurs” in the city.

Captured Ukrainian soldiers were led to the blast site by rebels who appeared to do little to stop people hitting them.

“They have to be punished, like Saddam Hussein,” pensioner and local resident Zina told AFP news agency. “They are killers. They killed our children. Our children cry every day.”

But another pensioner, Lyuda, said she was “ashamed of what is happening”. “I have pity for them,” she said, weeping. They are victims of [Ukrainian President ] Poroshenko. They are not guilty, they were sent here.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Ukrainian forces for what he called a “monstrous new crime” and a “coarse provocation”.

More than 4,800 people have been killed and some 1.2 million displaced since pro-Russian rebels seized parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in April.

The insurrection began after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March – weeks after Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych had been ousted.

There have been reports of fighting in recent days near the town of Slovyanoserbsk, north-west of Luhansk – an indication that violence is spreading beyond the Donetsk region.

Ukraine says Russia has more than 9,000 soldiers fighting alongside the rebels, a claim that Moscow denies.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday there had been a recent build-up in the numbers of Russian tanks and other heavy military equipment in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich repeated Russian denials of intervention in Ukraine.

“We know that there are some Russians that fight on the side of those regions in Ukraine – some people that are coming on their own and fight,” he told the BBC.

“We’re trying to make sure that those people [in eastern Ukraine] are protected and to preserve their rights,” he said. “We need a peaceful Ukraine.”


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