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Clashes in Slavyansk as Kiev's troops maintain chokehold

Published time: May 07, 2014 11:28
Edited time: May 07, 2014 08:55

Ukrainian soldiers man a checkpoint near the eastern Ukranian city of Slavyansk on May 6, 2014.(AFP Photo / Vasily Maximov)

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Shooting continued Wednesday morning near the besieged anti-government protester stronghold of Slavyansk. The city is encircled by pro-Kiev troops, who are reportedly preventing any civilians from leaving.

The clashes come as the anti-government militia are trying to retake a TV tower and several checkpoints previously captured by Kiev's troops, Interfax reports, citing a militia source.

Kiev's operation commander, Dmitry Tymchuk, said there was an attempt to break through Kiev's blockade in the morning, but it failed.

Neither side immediately reported any casualties.

This morning’s clashes come after an uneasy night in Slavyansk. Bursts of gunfire and at least two explosions were heard on the outskirts of the city overnight, with locals fearing that Ukrainian troops could enter the city at any moment.

“The city is encircled and civilians are not allowed to leave,” a representative of the self-defense forces told Itar-Tass. “Just recently, a family with a young child tried to leave the city by car. As a result, [the troops] opened fired, killing at least 2 people.”

According to the source, the government forces blockade points around the city have seen an influx of “people in black uniforms.”

“We suspect them to be from the Right Sector, but so far we have no concrete evidence,” the source said adding that he has information that “Kiev's junta” artillery units are being deployed to Slavyansk, in particular, Grad multiple rocket launcher systems.

Commander of the ‘Donetsk Republic’ self-defense forces, Igor Strelkov, confirmed the information saying that Grad batteries have been deployed to the outskirts of the city in addition to an “almost complete tank battalion” of some 30 tanks and a motorized infantry unit of around 20 armored infantry fighting vehicles, as well as a battery of “Akatia”, an artillery unit.

A checkpoint of the Ukrainian Army on the road linking Kramatorsk and Slavyansk.(RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Strelkov says that all the barrels are pointed at Slavyansk, warning that once the assault starts, citizens of Slavyansk “will live badly, but not for long.” He says that volunteers, mostly men in their forties, are continuing to join the ranks of the self-defense pro-federalization forces, to “defend their native city.”

On May 5 several checkpoints came under attack around the city of Slavyansk. Casualties were reported on both sides. Donetsk Health Department reports that at least 8 people died and 16 others injured when the troops started the assault on the city, trying to fight their way in into the center of the city.

With support of armored vehicles, artillery, and the air force the Ukrainian troops encircled Slavyansk but did not retake the city from the pro-federalization forces. Strelkov said that at least 10 of his men died in the last attempt.

“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,” he said.

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