KOSTYANTYNIVKA, Ukraine: Ukraine vowed on Sunday to broaden its “anti-terrorist” operation against pro-Russian rebels, as the crisis-hit country marked its second day of mourning after violence that left more than 50 dead.
National Security and Defense Council chief Andriy Parubiy said the armed forces would expand the “active stage of the operation in other towns where extremists and terrorists are carrying out illegal activities.”
Agence France-Presse reporters near the eastern town of Kostyantynivka, where rebels seized the town hall on April 28, saw a pro-Russian checkpoint abandoned and smouldering, and barricades being hastily erected in the center.
Rebels defending the town hall behind makeshift barriers told AFP there had been fighting overnight near the town’s television tower.
On Saturday, fierce gun battles erupted around the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, as the authorities stormed rebel-held checkpoints in a bid to tighten the noose around what has become the epicenter of pro-Russian fervor.
Central Slayvansk appeared relatively calm on Sunday morning but citizens reported increasing difficulty obtaining basic foodstuffs in the besieged town of 160,000 people.
Meanwhile, seven European inspectors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived home late on Saturday after an eight-day ordeal in captivity, a small chink of light in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov declared two days of mourning on Saturday after brutal violence in Odessa claimed 42 lives and at least 10 died in military operations around Slavyansk.
The scenic Black Sea port of Odessa was bracing for fresh violence as supporters of the Western-backed government in Kiev planned a fresh march amid fears it could be disrupted by pro-Russian militants.
The city was still reeling from horrific violence on Friday, when deadly clashes between the two sides culminated in a building fire that left 38 dead, most overcome by fumes, others from jumping from windows in a desperate bid for survival.
Four others died from gunshot wounds as the violence that has gripped the eastern part of Ukraine spread to the south, which had until then had been spared.
Late on Saturday, two Ukrainian soldiers sustained wounds after pro-Russians attacked a local recruitment office in the eastern city of Lugansk, according to local officials.
Local media reported four were wounded in sporadic fighting overnight in the port of Mariupol, where pro-Russian militants remain holed up in the town hall.
Meanwhile in Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, there were clashes between police and 2,000 pro-Kiev Tatars demonstrating against Russia’s refusal to allow their leader Mustafa Dzhemilev into the peninsula.