Ukraine Forces Say They Retook Most of Donetsk Airport

Ukrainian government forces said they recaptured most of Donetsk’s airport yesterday after intense fighting over the strategically important site that’s been a focus of combat since the conflict began last year.

“Our forces managed to almost completely clear the territory of the airport,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev, adding that retaking the wrecked facility had been “a massive operation.” Donetsk rebels said heavy fighting was taking place but didn’t mention the airport’s status in a posting on their website.

Four Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 32 were wounded, Lysenko said yesterday. He said the advance of troops at the airport doesn’t violate the Minsk truce deal because Ukrainian forces cleared rebels from their side of the disengagement line.

The government’s capture of the airport, following a week-long effort by separatists to take it over, rekindles the prospect of all-out war in the former Soviet republic. More than 4,800 people have died in the nine-month conflict, which has poisoned Russia’s ties with its former Cold War foes. Russia rejects accusations by Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that it’s meddling in the conflict by sending troops and weapons.

Russia is “very concerned” with the resumption of full-scale fighting in Donetsk and the shelling of residential areas, RIA Novosti reported, citing President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

‘Massive Shelling’

Ukrainian troops began “massive shelling” of Donetsk yesterday morning, Donetskoye Agentstvo Novostey, the news agency set up by the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic government, said on its website, citing Valentin Motuzenko, a military aide to DPR head.

It’s the first time that Donetsk has experienced such heavy shelling since summer, the website said, citing local residents.

The situation is “catastrophic,” Aleksandr Kofman, the rebel foreign minister of the DPR, said on the region’s website. The DPR “is the subject of a treacherous and full-scale attack from Ukraine which aims to destroy our people, our cities, our state,” he said.

Rebels said two people killed and 16 wounded in Horlivka by shelling from Ukrainian government forces.

Two boys, 6 and 16 years old, were killed by rebel shelling with Grad multiple rocket launchers of Uhlehorsk, in Donetsk region, and a 19-year-old woman wounded, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Russian Troops

Russia is massing troops and armaments at the border with Ukraine and is testing new weapons in the conflict area, Lysenko said.

The government ordered roads closed for bus and truck traffic in the Luhansk region while insurgents attacked civilians, Luhansk Regional Governor Hennadiy Moskal said on his website.

Fighting wrecked homes, commercial structures and infrastructure in several other villages in the Luhansk region. Workers who were mending a damaged gas pipeline were fired upon, Moskal said.

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz will arrive in Kiev today to meet with her Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk, according to the Ukrainian government’s website. Poland has been the most vocal EU supporter of the Ukrainian government that emerged from last year’s street protests which led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

Talks Canceled

With the cancellation earlier this month of peace talks planned in Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus, and Astana in Kazakhstan, fighting has picked up. Lysenko said military officials recorded a wave of 82 separate attacks by militants earlier on the weekend.

Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for an immediate meeting of the contact group that includes Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

A gathering of the contact group should be followed by a meeting of French, German, Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers, Poroshenko said in a statement on his website after a phone talk with Merkel.

The key pre-conditions for further peace talks are the closure of the Ukrainian-Russian border, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and the release of all hostages, according to the statement.

Merkel said on Jan. 14 that there is insufficient agreement between Russia and Ukraine to hold a multi-nation summit.

Explosions in Odessa, on the Black Sea coast, and a fire that engulfed a rail tank car carrying gasoline in the Kharkiv region added to tensions. The local prosecutor’s office called the blaze an act of sabotage. In addition, nine passenger cars were damaged by an explosion in a residential area in Kiev late yesterday.

More than 40 towns and villages in the Donetsk region, mainly near the airport, remain without electricity in sub-zero temperatures, Lysenko said.

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