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Dozens injured, fatalities on both sides in ongoing military op in Slavyansk (VIDEO)

Published time: May 05, 2014 09:34
Edited time: May 05, 2014 18:10

Anti-goverment armed men ride on top of an armoured personnel carrier near the town of Slaviansk, eastern Ukraine, May 5, 2014 (Reuters / Baz Ratner)

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There were fatalities among both Kiev loyalists and local militia members after government troops renewed the crackdown on the defiant eastern Ukrainian protester stronghold of Slavyansk. Over a dozen of people have been killed, including some civilians.

Read RT's live updates on the crackdown in eastern Ukraine

There was a shooting on the outskirts of Slavyansk as pro-government troops raided a protester checkpoint on Monday.

At least 10 self-defense fighters and their unarmed civilian supporters have been killed in the latest clashes, the commander of Slavyansk self-defense, Igor Strelkov, told RIA Novosti.

“We suffered losses – about 10 people, including civilians, 20-25 people were injured. I do not know the losses of our adversaries; clearly they are smaller than ours, they have armor. Most of our losses came from plainclothes [troops], disguised as civilians. We fell into their ambush near a petrol station,” Strelkov said.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said four of its troops were killed and some 30 others injured in Slavyansk during Monday’s attack. There are also casualties among the civilian population of the city, the ministry added.

A Ukrainian army helicopter was downed by heavy machine gun fire and crashed into a river in the Slavyansk area, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry press service has said in a statement. The aircraft, identified as Mi-24 helicopter, was hit at 14:30 local time (11:30 GMT) while doing a target run during a combat mission, the statement said. The pilots survived the crash and have been evacuated.

RT stringer Graham Phillips filmed the aftermath of fighting in an area east of Slavyansk, where 12 people were allegedly killed on Monday. Locals told Phillips they had to jump to the ground to avoid getting caught in the shootout.

[WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE]

Slavyansk city hospital reported admitting seven injured during the morning. Two of them, suffering from gunshot wounds, died in hospital.

A 30-year-old civilian woman was shot in the head and killed by a sniper while standing on her balcony, RT’s Paula Slier reported, citing doctors. Slier managed to get to the scene and interview the family of the victim.

Slier also said she witnessed a rocket fired near a TV station located in the vicinity of Slavyansk, which is currently held by Kiev’s troops.

Bells tolled in churches around the city to alert residents of the incoming threat.

Intefax cites a militia member as saying that their forces pulled back into the city after fighting in the villages of Andreevka and Semyonovka near Slavyansk.

The Security Service of Ukraine spokesperson Marina Ostapenko said the renewed operation’s aim is “to establish a security perimeter around the regions engulfed by violence.”

There is a report of a separate civilian death near Slavyansk. A man driving his car was shot by one of Kiev’s armored personnel carriers blocking the city, protester spokesman, Aleksandr Maltsev, told Itar-Tass.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it used a helicopter gunship to attack railway cars with rockets, saying the militia members were trying to convert it into an armored train. Phillips reported that the self-defense force in Andreevka village showed him a rocket casing left by helicopter fire, but said nobody was injured there.

The continuation of hostilities comes after a tense night, in which several people were reportedly injured as Kiev loyalists attacked anti-government troops in the city.

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Kiev has intensified attacks on Slavyansk and other protester-held cities in eastern Ukraine since Friday morning. So far government troops have managed to blockade transport to and from Slavyansk, but haven’t made significant territorial gains, preferring hit and run tactics.

Second Geneva talks called for

The armed standoff between the post-coup government in Kiev and the anti-government protesters in the East of the country has continued since mid-April.

Russia has been calling on the Ukrainian government to engage in direct dialogue with the protesters, saying it is the only way to prevent the violence from escalating. Moscow has called on the Western sponsors of the authorities in Kiev to put leverage on them and push for negotiations.

The call for dialogue is shared by Germany. Its foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said on Sunday that a second round of Geneva talks is needed to stop the bloodshed and produce a “clear conclusion as to how this conflict can be brought to a halt.” A German government spokesperson later confirmed that Chancellor Angela Merkel support the idea.

The first round of Geneva talks, which involved Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU, ended with a statement calling on disarmament of illegal armed groups and renunciation of use of force. But the statement was never implemented as the West accused Russia of failing to order the Ukrainian anti-government protesters to lay down arms, while Moscow said Kiev is trying to legitimize armed nationalist gangs instead of disarming them.

Ukraine said it was “looking positively” at the idea of holding a new round of talks. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, intensive consultations on the issue are underway and the new meeting may be held before May 25, the date of scheduled presidential elections in Ukraine.

But Russia’s calls for direct talks between Kiev and the protesters appear to be falling on deaf ear, too. On Monday acting Ukrainian President Aleksandr Turchinov told Merkel that “discussions with those, who raise and use arms against Ukrainian citizens are impossible,” referring to the armed militias in the East.

Kiev says it is willing to discuss any possible shift of power between the capital and Ukrainian regions only after all the seized cities are vacated by the protesters. The protesters do not trust the Ukrainian government and believe that reprisals rather than negotiation would follow, if they laid down arms.