Loud blasts and repeated heavy gunfire have been heard in the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, according to freelance journalist Graham Phillips, who is reporting for RT.
Full-scale military operations are happening in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, located in the north of Donetsk region, a self-proclaimed leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, Miroslav Rudenko, told RIA Novosti. He added that fighting escalated early on Sunday morning as Ukrainian troops tried to dismantle self-defense forces' posts. Information about the number of injures is not available.
The press secretary of the people's mayor of Slavyansk confirmed that fighting lasted all day on Saturday.
Graham Phillips said that the Ukrainian military has been active all around the outskirts of Slavyansk.
“There had been repeated blasts and we have reports that the Ukrainian military is on all sides of the city,” Phillips said.
“We have heavy fighting to the east of the city. I went there several hours ago and we had gunfire breaking out by eight o’clock. We had reports of the Ukrainian military moving in at that side. We got reports that they are moving in from the south, north and also action at the airfield at Kramatorsk – there is a conflict between the Ukrainian army and pro-Donetsk forces there,” he reported.
Loud blasts, repeated heavy gunfire and this is the worst shooting at night I've yet heard here in #Slavyansk.
— GrahamWPhillips (@GrahamWP_UK) May 17, 2014
Phillips described hearing “loud blasts, explosions...reverberations of gunfire ricocheting around the city.”
“The gunfire is a fabric of daily life now in Slavyansk, but this is the heaviest fighting I’ve heard in Slavyansk since I got here over a month ago,” he added.
He noted that Ukraine seems to have doubled their forces in the area and “what we see now seems to be the sharpest and strongest action yet on their part to try to retake the city, which has been in the hands of these pro-Donetsk activists since April 12.”
The Ukrainian coup-appointed Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov has posted a statement on Facebook, saying that they “don’t have any casualties, but one of the attackers of the National Guard camp near Slavyansk was killed, and another one wounded. He was detained and investigators are working with him now.”
Avakov added that he “calls the camp every morning, if no news comes overnight” and “everyone is now used to the war.”
The reports of heavy fighting come after an ultimatum was given to the Kiev military by Donetsk self-defense forces, warning that if troops did not withdraw from block posts in the Donetsk region within 24 hours, they would be taken by force. The statement was made on Thursday by Sergey Zdrilyuk, deputy commander of the pro-autonomy militia in Donbass.
Following the ultimatum, new authorities in post-coup Kiev have listed the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as terrorist organizations and launched criminal cases to investigate their formation.
The two eastern regions proclaimed themselves sovereign states after holding referendums on May 11.