'Many dead' in Ukraine offensive in Sloviansk – Turchynov

‘Many dead’ in Ukraine offensive in Sloviansk – Turchynov

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Many pro-Russia rebels have been killed, injured and arrested in the Ukrainian government offensive in the eastern city of Sloviansk, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has said.
In a statement, he said the operation in the rebel-held city was not going as quickly as hoped. Rebels have shot down two Ukrainian army helicopters, killing a pilot and a serviceman. Seven have been injured.The UN Security Council is meeting in emergency session at Russia’s request. Moscow has said the use of the Ukrainian army against its own people is “leading Ukraine to catastrophe”. The situation in Sloviansk remains unclear. Mr Turchynov said the fight against rebel forces was “greatly complicated” by the fact that the conflict in eastern Ukraine was taking place in population centres. He accused pro-Russian forces of hiding behind civilians and hostages. All pro-Russian checkpoints around the city had been captured, Mr Turchynov added, though separatists have spoken of several still being under their control. Local people could be seen standing in front of Ukrainian tanks, according to Paul Ronzheimer, a reporter with Germany’s Bild newspaper in the city. Many told the soldiers to retreat, exclaiming “shoot us, we are separatists as well, just because we want to belong to Russia, shoot us”, Mr Ronzheimer said. Earlier, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the “active phase” of the operation in the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk region began at 04:30 local time (02:30 GMT). To the south, there have been clashes in the coastal city of Odessa between pro-Russian protesters and supporters of the Kiev government. At least three people have been killed amid reports of gunfire. The West continues to accuse Moscow of provoking the unrest in eastern Ukraine, something Russia denies. US President Barack Obama, at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, warned of further sanctions against Russia if it did not “change course”. He said the idea that the unrest was caused by a “spontaneous uprising” was “belied” by the militants’ use of missiles. On the seven Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers detained in Sloviansk by pro-Russian activists, Mr Obama said both leaders were “united in their outrage” about their treatment.
Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine: •       Unknown attackers have seized a local railway control centre near Donetsk, disrupting train movement •       Pro-Russian rebels have left the city council office and TV centre in the eastern Luhansk region •       Eastern Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population. It was a stronghold for President Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by pro-Western protesters in February. •       Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula – part of Ukraine but with a Russian-speaking majority – in a move that provoked international outrage. •       The crisis has plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s.- BBC News

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