Updated 3:14 p.m. EDT:
The Associated Press reports that 38 people have died in Odessa, Ukraine, as a result from a building fire that started during a clash between pro-Russia and pro-government supporters.
In a statement released by police, the fire was said to have broken out Friday in a trade union building in the southern port city. Several were killed after jumping from the building’s windows.
In an effort to regain control of the eastern city of Slovyansk, the Ukrainian government launched its first major offensive against pro-Russian separatists Friday, the Associated Press reports. The fighting has claimed at least three lives so far.
Pro-Russia forces shot down two Ukrainian army helicopters, killing two members on board, and one of the pro-Russia separatists was reportedly killed, according to the report.
Ukrainian forces surrounded Slovyansk, a city 100 miles from the Russian border, and took control of all the checkpoints from the insurgents, acting President Oleksander Turchynov said. He also said that two Ukrainian soldiers were killed, along with seven wounded in Friday’s assault. Turchynov added that the militants suffered significant losses, many killed or injured.
Video by Associated Press
“Our security forces are fighting mercenaries of foreign states, terrorists and criminals,” Turchynov said in a statement.
The Kremlin said that Kiev launched a “punitive operation” that effectively destroyed “all hope” for defusing the tension in the region.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a joint news conference at the White House on Friday to discuss further actions against Russia for its continued advances into Ukraine.
Video by PBS NewsHour
“We will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions” if Russia disrupts a presidential election in Ukraine scheduled for May 25, Obama said, with Merkel at his side.
“Further sanctions will be unavoidable,” Merkel added.