By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
Separatist rebels attacked a Ukrainian military base with Russian-made Grad rockets, killing 19 troops and boosting the overnight death toll to about 30 in the latest flare-up of fighting in eastern Ukraine, Russian media and Ukrainian officials said Friday.
It was the deadliest day for the Kiev government since fighting resumed last week after a 10-day cease-fire and dampened a mood of resurgency that followed the Ukrainian troops’ success last weekend in sweeping out militants from their strongholds in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed to avenge the rocket attack on the military base at Zelenopillya, on the Russian border in the Luhansk region.
“For every life of our soldiers the rebels will pay with tens and hundreds of their own,” Petroshenko said in a statement on the presidential website.
Four other Ukrainian troops were killed in a separate attack on border guards near Luhansk city, military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznev said in a post on his Facebook page that put the cumulative overnight death toll at 23 government forces.
Separatist rebels armed with Russian-made guns and commanded by a Russian special forces veteran also ambushed a bus carrying miners home from the DTEK enterprise near Luhansk, killing five of the workers, Interfax news agency reported.
DTEK is part of Ukrainian magnate Rinat Akhmetov’s sprawling industrial empire, which has been targeted by the rebels in an effort to break the eastern Ukrainian production facilities from their management and integration with associated industries in Kiev and western Ukraine.
Interfax quoted the director of Akhmetov’s eastern enterprises as saying the bus attack had forced the company to suspend operations at four mines in the Luhansk region that employ 4,500.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted a representative of the rebels’ proclaimed Peoples Republic of Donetsk as saying the death toll from the attack in Zelenopillya was believed to have killed at least 30 Ukrainian troops and destroyed an armored convoy of the 24th Motorized Division from Lviv.
The overnight attacks showed the separatists remain capable of inflicting serious harm on the government as it carries out what it calls an “anti-terrorist operation” to recover control of administrative buildings, police stations and border crossings.
Ukrainian authorities and their Western allies accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of arming and instigating the rebellion after Russian troops seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March.
Putin has denied having a hand in the violence that has taken well over 500 lives since late March. However, dozens of separatist fighters killed in the clashes over the past three months have been identified as Russian citizens and some, like Donetsk military commander Igor Strelkov, openly concede they came from Russia to aid the insurgency.
AFP Photo/Andrey Sinitsin
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