DONETSK, Ukraine – Dozens of dead insurgents lay piled in a van outside a morgue Tuesday, and a rebel said more were on the way. Bomb disposal experts disarmed a mortar round lodged in a corpse.
A wrecked and blood-soaked truck at the Donetsk airport showed the grisly aftermath of battle.
The fight for eastern Ukraine seems to have taken a ferocious turn, as both sides step up their attacks after the rebellious regions mostly boycotted a presidential election that delivered a decisive winner.
Following a day and night of the heaviest and most sustained assault by Ukrainian government forces to date, the pro-Russia separatist movement finds itself facing an emboldened and resolute national leadership.
With Sunday’s election of billionaire Petro Poroshenko to the presidency, Kiev has received grudging and tentatively positive diplomatic overtures from Russia.
Leaders of the 28 EU countries, meeting Tuesday in Brussels, said they expect Russia to cooperate with Poroshenko.
But with evidence that irregulars are continuing to pour into Ukraine from Russia, it remains unclear whether the Kremlin is encouraging fighters whose attack Monday on the Donetsk International Airport showed their increasing aggression.
What is certain is that the Ukrainian government’s anti-insurgent operation has been kicked into a higher gear, with the military unleashing fighter jets, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery.
Donetsk Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko said 40 people, including two civilians, were killed in fighting after government troops thwarted a rebel attempt to seize the airport, Ukraine’s second-largest.
The bodies of about 30 insurgents were brought Tuesday morning to the Kalinin Hospital morgue, said Leonid Baranov of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
The fighters had been wounded and were being transported to a hospital in a truck when it was shot up by government forces, he said.
After Poroshenko claimed victory in the election, hopes were raised of a push for unification in the deeply divided nation. He has vowed to negotiate a peaceful end to the insurgency.
But he also compared the separatists to lawless Somali pirates and promised he would stop them from sowing more chaos.
President Barack Obama, who spoke with Poroshenko by phone Tuesday, plans to meet him while in Europe from June 3 to 6, the White House said. Obama offered him the United States’ full support to unify Ukraine, it added.
Poroshenko said he hoped Russia would support his efforts to bring stability.