Clashes with pro-Russian separatists intensify in eastern Ukraine

BY Kayla Ruble  April 13, 2014 at 2:00 PM EST
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Armed pro-Russian separatist forces occupy a state security building in the eastern city of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12. Protestors and militia forces have seized control of state buildings in other cities in the region including Donetsk and Luhansk. Credit: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Triggered in part by a security officer’s death, Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchinov said on Sunday that the country’s armed forces were planning to launch a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” against the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

The security officer was killed after gunfire erupted between pro-Russian militia and Ukrainian special forces in a wooded area outside of the eastern city of Slovyansk.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov confirmed in a Facebook post that the officer had been killed.

Turchinov offered a Monday deadline for the separatists currently occupying government buildings in the region to surrender their weapons. He blamed Russia for this weekend’s uprisings.

“The blood of Ukrainian heroes has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine,” he said during a national address.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Ukraine’s plans for military operation were a “criminal order.” The ministry called on Western officials to rein in the Ukrainian government in order to prevent a civil war.

The clashes come after armed pro-Russian separatists took over government buildings — including a police station and security service office — in Slovyansk on Saturday.

Slovyansk is located within the province of Donetsk, which borders Russia and has experienced heightened turmoil in recent weeks.

The regional administration in Donetsk said at least nine were wounded in Saturday’s attacks, stating that “an armed confrontation” was taking place in the area.

A lawmaker from the region, Vladimir Kolodchenko, witnessed the attack and said four gunmen pulled up in a car and began firing at Ukrainian soldiers who were standing next to their vehicles. He said everyone left the scene shortly after the incident.

Ukrainian special forces also initiated an operation on Sunday to remove the pro-Russian forces from state buildings in the eastern part of the country.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a phone call on Saturday that he was concerned that the attacks “were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.”

However, Lavrov placed the blame on the Ukrainian government, saying it had failed “to take into account the legitimate needs and interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population.”