MOSCOW – The conflict between pro-Russian gunmen and Ukraine’s authorities turned bloody Sunday, with one security service officer killed and reports of people wounded on both sides, as the struggle for the country’s east escalated a week after separatists began systematically occupying government buildings.
Gunfire – the first reported between authorities and pro-Russian separatists in the east – erupted as Ukraine declared that it would deploy its armed forces in a large-scale anti-terrorist operation against the burgeoning revolt in the Donetsk region.
The blood of Ukrainian heroes has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine, President Oleksandr Turchynov said in an address to the nation Sunday evening. The aggressor has not stopped and is continuing to sow disorder in the east of the country.
The armed assaults on government buildings in the eastern region, close to the Russian border, have alarmed not only leaders in Kiev – who accuse Moscow of a coordinated campaign of aggression against Ukraine – but also those in the West. The attacks, officials said, were reminiscent of the shadowy invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, which resulted in its annexation by Russia last month.
Well, it has all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos. It’s professional, it’s coordinated, there’s nothing grass-roots-seeming about it.
If the attacks continued, she warned, the United States would intensify its sanctions against Russia. As for the Kiev government, it lost Crimea without firing a shot and has vowed not to repeat the mistake in eastern Ukraine.
The West has been cautioning Ukraine against starting a shooting war with the separatists for fear that it would offer Russia, which has thousands of troops gathered across the border, a pretext for invasion.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said, however, that he had no alternative but to begin an anti-terrorist campaign Sunday after days of urging the separatists to go home peacefully.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday night calling Ukraine’s actions criminal and adding that it is now the West’s responsibility to prevent civil war in Ukraine. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting Sunday night, at Russia’s request, to discuss the mounting crisis.
Turchynov gave the separatists a deadline of 9 a.m. local time today to vacate the buildings and leave under an amnesty. Last week, they were given a deadline of Friday to do the same. The offer was ignored.
On Sunday night, there was little evidence that Russian supporters had any inclination to retreat. Last Monday, they overran the Donetsk regional administration building and have held it ever since. On Saturday, they took the Donetsk regional police headquarters, while men in camouflage overwhelmed the police department in Slavyansk, a town 55 miles from the city of Donetsk. By Sunday, they had stormed other towns in the region.
Turchynov said that a captain in Ukraine’s security service was fatally shot Sunday in a fight outside Slavyansk and that two colonels were wounded.
Four residents were wounded, according to other reports.