bne IntelliNews -
Ukraine has launched an intensive artillery bombardment of the positions of Russian-backed rebels in the Donetsk region, after rebels pushed into Donetsk airport on January 16 and claimed they had captured it.
Ukrainian forces moved tanks towards the airport on January 17 and started heavy shelling of rebel positions, with numerous shells striking the city of Donetsk, causing civilian casualties and power outages, according to media reports. There were also reports of fighting inside the city precints. Ukraine's army reported January 18 that four soldiers had been killed and around 32 wounded.
Andrei Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's national security and defence said that the actions were intended to restore Ukrainian control over the airport. Ukrainian forces claimed on January 18 to have retaken the almost completely destroyed airport.
Presidential adviser Yury Biryukov wrote on facebook on January 18 that “all our forces in sector B received orders to open mass fire against known rebel positions".
But the Ukrainian counter-attack, which followed a surge by rebels into most of the airport on January 16, seemed to have become bogged down by the morning of January 19, according to subsequent posts by Biryukov, who also suggested the airport may not have been the main target of the counter-attack.
“During the night we evacuated our wounded from the new terminal [of the airport] and have rotated our forces. We will not abandon anyone, no-one has been forgotten, no-one has betrayed anyone. Everything will succeed, but not immediately. We are learning,” Biryukov posted early on January 19.
Diverse reports spoke of Ukrainian forces being encircled near the airport, amid controversy over whether the Dnipro brigade of irregulars had failed to advance when ordered.
As a result of shelling, significant disruption and civilian casualties have been reported in Donetsk. Power was reported cut in the central districts of Donetsk. AP reported sources in Donetsk saying at least 10 civilians had died, including two children.
In Kyiv President Petro Poroshenko led a march for national unity, attended by several thousand, which mourned 11 civilians killed when rebels rockets allegedly hit a bus at an army checkpoint on January 13. In a speech Poroshenko declared that Ukraine would retake Donbass and the Ukrainian nation would be reborn there. “We will not surrender a yard of land,” he said.
The Kremlin meanwhile accused Poroshenko of rejecting a peace plan proposed in a letter on January 15. “On Thursday night a written address was sent by the president of Russia to the president of Ukraine, in which a concrete plan was proposed to both sides in the conflict to withdraw heavy artillery," Peskov said, as quoted by AP.
The two sides are thought to be jostling for position in the run-up to renewed peace talks, which will likely establish a line of demarcation along current positions. The Russian-backed rebels and the Kremlin claim that the Minsk peace accords signed in September between Ukraine, Russia and the rebels awarded Donetsk airport to the rebels, but Kyiv disputes this.
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