Ukraine recaptures eastern airport, but still faces confrontation with separatists
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GWEN IFILL: Ukraine’s military said its forces clashed with 30 armed members of a pro-Russian militia today and regained control of a small airport.The action happened after the country’s acting president announced an anti-terrorist operation to take back buildings held by separatists in at least nine cities in eastern Ukraine.
Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports tonight on the uphill battle Ukrainian troops are facing against their own countrymen.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Coming into land, reinforcements for a unit of Ukrainian troops, they’re stopped on the main road just north of the towns where separatists have taken down the yellow and blue Ukrainian colors and substituted the Russian flag.
They unloaded ammunition boxes and other supplies. The Ukrainian government says the anti-terror operation has now started. Their commander was clear that they see Russia as the enemy.
MAN (through interpreter): This is happening because of the unprecedented intervention by a neighboring country on sovereign Ukrainian territory. Note that this aggression is made in the most base way. Let’s not mince words: It’s a criminal act.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The soldiers were clear: They don’t want the civil war the Russian government has predicted. Ukrainians, they said, shouldn’t fight each other.
MAN: The Ukrainian people is not our enemy.
LINDSEY HILSUM: And the Russians?
LINDSEY HILSUM: They might be your enemy?
MAN: Russian who? Russian military, yes. Russian people, no.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Further south, near the Russian border, we drove with a convoy of locals determined to make Ukrainian forces leave their village.
They confronted a small unit of Ukrainian troops who had set up camp here several days earlier. “You have nothing to fear,” said the Ukrainian soldier. “We’re scared of you,” they replied, “and we want you to leave or come on to the side of the people.”
The people here are siding with the separatists, those who prefer Moscow. They want the soldiers to reject orders from the government in Kiev.
But you live in Ukraine, and this is the Ukrainian army. They have the right to be here, don’t they?
VALENTINA MUFAZALOVA (through interpreter): They don’t have documentation to stay here, and we don’t recognize this government who sent them here. We didn’t elect them and we don’t support their decisions.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Whether they like it or not, Ukrainian soldiers are now being drawn into conflict with Ukrainian citizens, the very people they were always tasked to protect.