Eight people have been reported killed after an explosion in Lugansk’s regional administration building as Kiev deployed fighter jets to the city in eastern Ukraine. The jets overhead and heavy gunfire on the ground caused panic among civilians.
A previous death toll of five people was first reported by RIA Novosti, and was later confirmed by local self-defense forces.
“Ukraine’s air force struck Lugansk downtown at 16.00 pm. Military aircraft made a targeted strike, deploying cluster bombs. The administration building is partially destroyed,” the government of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) said.
— PaulaSlier_RT (@PaulaSlier_RT) June 2, 2014
On Tuesday it was confirmed that a salvo of free flight rockets fired from the Ukrainian armed forces’ fighter jet killed eight civilians inside and near the administrative building.
Many wounded were trapped inside the administration headquarters, which caught on fire. About six ambulance vehicles have arrived at the site. The death toll may rise.
Those killed - three women and two men - are all civilians, witnesses told RT. One of them was the LNR’s health minister, Natalia Arkhipova. During the air-strike, she was talking to another woman on the administration building’s steps, the self-proclaimed republic’s premier, Vasiliy Nikitin, said.
Warning: Extremely graphic video
Large blood stains inside the HQ could be seen on live-streaming video from the area, with pieces of glass and stones also visible on the floor. The camera operator was choking with smoke. On the outside, many windows are shattered, shell fragments covering the nearby area and dark plumes of smoke are coming from the fourth floor.
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Unexploded shells were found in the park in front of the building, warn the self-defense forces. Locals were urged to leave the area.
“The fire has engulfed the third and fourth floors of the building, and the windows have been blown out. There are shards of glass everywhere. I saw paramedics carrying people out of the entrance,” a witness told RT.
Minutes earlier, heavy machine-gun shooting was reported in the center of Lugansk, as fierce fighting between the local self-defense squads and Kiev forces renewed after a brief truce.
The shooting sparked panic among visitors of a café, who rushed out searching for shelter.
Meanwhile, fighting in the Lugansk region continued later on Monday, with another airstrike reported by the self-proclaimed republic’s authorities. They said that Kiev forces launched an air strike on a checkpoint in the region and there were casualties.
Kiev, however, denied attacking the HQ, insisting that its forces are not firing on residential areas in the cities, and do not use air power in those areas, reports the Ukrainian news agency UNN.
The Ukrainian authorities sent its air force to Lugansk to support border guard units stationed in the area, said Vladislav Seleznyov, the spokesman for the military operation against the pro-autonomy protesters in eastern Ukraine.
The fighter jets eliminated two opposition mortar detachments, he told a media briefing.
Seleznyoov added that according to preliminary experts’ conclusions, the explosion resulted from an attempt to launch some anti-aircraft missile.
”Fighter jets could become vulnerable while making turns," he said. “Perhaps, terrorists were trying to shoot them down from some air defense system, but the explosion occurred inside the building.”
— Martyn Edwards (@UKgrids) June 2, 2014
In the early hours of Monday, self-defense fighters attacked the Lugansk border unit's department.
“About a hundred armed men drove up towards the Lugansk border unit's department at around 00:30am and took positions along the perimeter. The first attack with the use of using machine guns and under-barrel grenade launchers began at about 04:00am, and lasted for about 40 minutes. The border guards successfully deterred the attack,” the Ukrainian State Border Service reported on its website.
The second and third attacks were also successfully repelled, it said, adding that there were wounded among the border guards and several victims among the self-defense.
According to the State Border Service, “terrorists” kept pulling in forces to the border unit’s department, and by 7am there were “about 400” at the site.
The fighting continued for several hours before a short truce was reached in the early afternoon, which allowed for the wounded to be removed from the area. Violence renewed though only half-an hour later.
Talks between self-defense activists and the border guards’ command reached a deadlock, a spokesperson for the People’s Republic of Lugansk told Itar-Tass. The local authorities were seeking “a peaceful solution to the situation” and wanted the “servicemen living in the People’s Republic of Lugansk” to leave the border guards’ unit and return to their homes, he added.However, military officials rejected the proposal.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called Kiev’s ongoing military operation in southeastern Ukraine, and the use of the air force a “gross violation” of international law.
"The authorities in Kiev have committed another crime against their own people," a statement on the ministry's website said. "Everything that has taken place (there) indicates the downright unwillingness of the Kiev authorities to move towards seeking ways for national accord in the country."
Moscow also urged NATO to demand that Kiev immediately stop its military operation and fulfill the Geneva accords, as well as the OSCE roadmap of the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia’s envoy to the alliance said.