Intense clashes between Ukrainian military forces and pro-Russia insurgents raged in the eastern region of Donetsk on June 3, killing at least two Ukrainian troops and injuring dozens a day after heavy fighting and an explosion in neighboring Luhansk Oblast claimed at least 12 lives.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the military actions at the edge of insurgent-held Sloviansk and in the nearby village of Semenivka are an “active offensive phase” of the government’s anti-terrorism operation, which began in April.
“A very intense exchange of fire is underway. Our armored personnel carriers have been hit by the terrorists’ grenade launcher several times near Semenivka. But they have withstood the attack. Well done, [APR] designers!” Avakov wrote on Facebook.
But Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s anti-terrorism operation, said that two servicemen were killed and 42 wounded, some critically, amid the fierce fighting. “The active phase of the counterterrorism operation is continuing near Krasny Lyman and in Semenivka,” he told reporters on June 3.
Head of the Ukrainian Center for Military and Political Studies and Information Resistance group coordinator Dmytro Tymchuk reported earlier on June 3 that one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and another 13 were wounded when their convoy was attacked by the insurgents while moving south toward Sloviansk from Izyum.
“An armored personnel carrier of the Ukrainian security forces was damaged in the attack,” he added.
Insurgent leaders confirmed that Ukrainian forces were advancing toward Sloviansk, telling Russia’s RIA Novosti they were “shelling” the city and “shooting from an APC [armored personnel carrier] and automatic weapons.”
Avakov said that Ukrainian forces destroyed the insurgents’ roadblocks and engineer installations near the village of Semenivka, about 20 miles south of Sloviansk, around 7:45 a.m. as they pushed onward.
The interior minister urged the civilian population of Sloviansk, as well as those in neighboring Kramatorsk and Krasny Lyman, where fighting had also broken out, to stay indoors and “refrain from approaching the terrorists’ positions in order to avoid risks to their life.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted the self-proclaimed “people’s mayor” of Sloviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, as saying that insurgents there downed a Ukrainian fighter jet and a helicopter.
“About half an hour ago we managed to bring down the Ukrainian army’s Su-25. One helicopter, several tanks and one armored personnel carrier of the Ukrainian army were destroyed as well,” Ponomarev told the news agency.
In this video, purportedly filmed in Sloviansk on June 3 and published to YouTube, Ukrainian military helicopters buzz over the city and release flares to ward off surface-to-air missiles.
But Seleznev told Interfax that the report wasn’t true. “Information that Ukrainian planes and helicopters have been shot down are not true. Yesterday one of the helicopters received holes from small arms fire,” he said, adding that the separatist fighters in Sloviansk “are being blocked.”
“If they refuse to lay down their arms they will be destroyed,” he said. “Our job is to establish peace in the region and this we will do.”
As part of the anti-terrorism operation on June 3, Ukrainian forces terminated an “insurgents’ camp” outside Severodonetsk, Luhansk Oblast, according to acting President Oleksandr Turchynov.
“This morning a large number of terrorists were eliminated in the camp, which they secretly set up in the industrial area near Severodonetsk. Units involved in the ‘anti-terrorist operation’ are now taking active measures to liberate Severodonetsk,” Turchynov said at a parliamentary session on Tuesday.
Ukrainian air forces carried out airstrikes on insurgent roadblocks there and attacked their units in the Luhansk region, Turchynov added.
“It means that the attempt to seize the border guard unit on the outskirts of Luhansk has been unblocked,” he said.
The restart of the “active phase” of Ukraine’s counterterrorism operation comes a day after some 500 heavily armed pro-Russia insurgents attacked a border guard headquarters in Mirny, Luhansk Oblast, wounding 10 servicemen, at least four critically. Five insurgents were killed and at least seven others suffered injuries in the fighting.
Also on June 2, a blast at an administrative building in Luhansk held by separatists claimed several lives. A health official for the Luhansk region told Russia’s Interfax news agency that at least seven people had been confirmed dead in the blast. The self-proclaimed health minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic was among those killed.
Firemen climb to the Regional State building seized by the separatists after an explosion in Ukrainian city of Luhansk on June 2, 2014.
Separatist leaders from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic claimed that Ukrainian fighter jets sent in to support the border guards in their fight had responded by dropping cluster bombs on separatist-occupied administrative buildings in central Luhansk.
But Ukrainian authorities denied carrying out an air strike on the buildings, saying the blast was likely caused by a misdirected surface-to-air rocket fired by the insurgent side.
However, a report released on June 3 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) special monitoring mission (SMM) to Ukraine said that the explosion was likely caused by air strikes.
“On 2 June, shortly after 15:00 [hours], rockets hit the occupied regional administration building. Based on the SMM’s limited observation these strikes were the result of non-guided rockets shot from an aircraft. The number of casualties is unknown,” reads the OSCE report.
Closed-circuit camera footage posted on YouTube shows the moment of the blast at the Luhansk regional state government building.
Another video shows the gruesome aftermath in which the mangled bodies of several people caught in the explosion are strewn about the scorched earth outside the government building.
181 killed at hands of Kremlin-backed insurgents
Ukraine’s acting Prosecutor General Oleg Makhnitsky said at a press conference in Kyiv on June 3 that a total of 181 people, including 59 servicemen, have been killed in clashes with Kremlin-backed insurgents in Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts since the beginning of the conflict in April.
Another 239 suffered injuries, he said.
Meanwhile, Selezniov, the anti-terrorist operation spokesperson, said that Ukrainian security forces law in the Donetsk region alone have neutralized over 300 militants.
“The militants’ ranks are thinning. According to early reports, over 300 militants have been eliminated,” Selezniov told reporters on June 3.