Ukraine teeters on brink of civil war as military launches big operation in east town of Sloviansk

By bne IntelliNews May 2, 2014

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Tensions in eastern Ukraine are rising to a new level after the Ukrainian army began a special operation against Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern town of Sloviansk. 

The situation is extremely confused and journalists are being turned away from approaching the city at roadblocks, but social media is carrying unconfirmed reports of Ukranian troops with APCs preparing to assault and retake the city by force. 

To date, the government in Kyiv has refrained from large-scale military operations in eastern Ukraine for fear of providing Russia with the pretext to "protect Russian-speakers" and launch its own military invasion of the region. 

Sloviansk was blocked by the Ukrainian military on the morning of May 2 with 20 helicopters used to crack down on self-defence forces, reports Voice of Russia. 

The inhabitants of the town have reportedly been flocking to roadblocks to plead with the army not to assault their town, according to unconfirmed local reports. However, Sloviansk pro-Russian self-defence forces told RIA Novosti that the Ukrainian military has already begun its assault and attacked several positions.

While the details remain vague, clearly the scale of the fighting in the vicinity of the city is escalating. The Ukrainian defence ministry said on May 2 that two Mi-24 helicopters have been downed by the separatists in the city and another Mi-8 was damaged. This suggests sophisticated weaponry. Two Ukrainian army military personnel were killed and several injured, the ministry said. One protester was killed, and another injured during the attack on the city, according to the pro-Russian self-defence forces. 

Another report said Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that a total of four helicopters had been shot down, with at least one pilot dead and another one captured. 

This snippet from Rossiya-24 television purports to show a Ukrainian helicopter being shot down by pro-Russian militants in Sloviansk.

The country is teetering on the edge of civil war, which is just waiting for a flash point to ignite bloody fighting. Sloviansk could be it. 

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