bne IntelliNews -
Russian-backed insurgents in East Ukraine' Donbass region claim to have captured Donetsk Airport from Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian forces say they remain in control of some parts of the airport.
In the evening of January 15, Russian state TV showed footage of insurgents in control of an almost totally destroyed airport and the flag of the Donetsk People's Republic flying on the terminal building, as insurgents said they were now 'smoking out' remaining resistance in the new terminal.
“Currently the second and third floors of the [new] terminal are completely cleansed. No one is left there,” rebel commander Motorola told Russia's pro-insurgency TV station Life News. Apart from Motorola's unit, the rebel division 'Sparta' was also reported to be involved.
Ukrainian analysts said that the footage was staged.
The airport has been the main site of ongoing fighting in Donbass since a ceasefire was meant to have entered into force in September 2014, following a peace agreement in Minsk signed by all parties to the conflict.
Fighting over the airport had died down over the New Year, with Ukrainian forces in the airport being rotated in agreement with the rebels. Ukraine has launched a fresh national call-up to replace a large part of its current forces fighting in Donbass, whose period of duty has expired. The rebels may have tried to exploit the change-over in the timing of their attack on the airport, analysts said.
On January 13 hostilities restarted, with analysts linking the surge in fighting to upcoming talks on regulating the conflict between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, and the rebels' desire to secure the airport before the talks begin.
On January 14 the control tower collapsed under the impact of rebel artillery fire.
The leader of the rebel organisation Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, said on January 15, following the claimed capture of the airport, that the rebel offensive would now continue until all territory lost to government forces in 2014 was recovered. "Let our countrymen hear this: We will not just give up our land. We will either take it back peacefully, or like that," Zakharchenko said, referring to the fighting at the airport, as quoted by AP.
Since the signing of the Minsk peace accords in September 2013, Russia and the Russian-backed insurgents have claimed that unpublished clauses to the peace accords awarded control of Donetsk Airport to the rebels. Kyiv denies this. Rebel forces retained a foothold in one part of the airport since September, but it was mostly controlled by Ukrainians.
Rebels subjected the airport at times to intensive shelling, while the Ukrainian forces have claimed unconfirmed high losses among rebel attackers.
The fighting at the airport also caused civilian casualties in and around the major city of Donetsk, because of Ukrainian shelling of rebel artillery positions often located in residential areas.
Alexander Hug, deputy head of an OSCE monitoring mission to Ukraine, told AP on January 15 that rebel forces were shelling the airport from within residential areas. "These attacks ... attract counter-fire from positions opposite and other directions, which leads unfortunately to repeated civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure," Hug said.
Ukrainian TV and government officials have feted the bitter resistance and fighting spirit shown by Kyiv's military and pro-Kyiv irregulars in Donetsk Airport against the Russian-backed rebels, coining the term 'cyborgs' for the Ukrainian forces there.
Donetsk's 'Sergei Prokovief Airport' was modernised in 2011-2012 at a cost of around €50m for the Euro-2012 football championship co-hosted by Ukraine.
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