KIEV: Ukrainian armed forces on Tuesday launched a “special operation” against militiamen in the country’s Russian speaking east, authorities said, recapturing a military airfield from pro-Moscow separatists.
Gunfire could be heard from the airfield at the town of Kramatorsk after a fighter jet swooped low over the area. Ukrainian troops were seen disembarking from helicopters.
A Reuters correspondent in Kramatorsk saw four military helicopters over the airport. Two of these landed and when troops stepped out and walked across the field, locals manning a barricade shouted “Shame! Go back home!“
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksander Turchinov had earlier announced that a military operation was under way to flush pro-Russian separatists out of the government buildings and facilities they have seized in about 10 towns and cities in the east over the last few days.
Turchinov issued a statement saying Ukraine had retaken the airfield in Kramatorsk from pro-Russian militants, while the state security service said an “anti-terrorist” operation was in progress against separatists in the nearby town of Slaviansk.
The operations in Kramatorsk and elsewhere appeared to mark an escalation of the deepest East-West crisis since the Cold War. The standoff has raised fears in the West and in Kiev that Russia might intervene militarily on behalf of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier, pro-Russian militants holed up in the Kramatorsk police headquarters since Saturday had left the building — but a state security official in Kiev said separatists had then taken over the agency’s offices in the town.
Meanwhile, A Polish official said on Tuesday that Canada and Poland will announce an aid package for Ukraine when Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visits Warsaw next week.
The spokesperson for the Polish Embassy in Ottawa however would not disclose how much will be provided to the ex-Soviet state, nor how it would be spent.
Baird is scheduled to travel to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Latvia and Estonia on April 22-28 to discuss the escalating situation in Ukraine.
In Poland, he is expected to meet with his counterpart.