MARIUPOL, Ukraine: Pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine announced a major new offensive on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) after heavy rocket fire killed at least 30 people in the government-held port of Mariupol, sparking international calls for Moscow to stop backing the separatists.
The local mayor’s office said 97 people were also wounded in the strategic city by dozens of long-distance rockets that smashed into a packed residential district early in the morning and then again shortly after noon.
“Obviously, everyone in the city is very scared,” Mariupol native Eduard told Agence France-Presse.
A fellow resident named Pavlo described dazed survivors helping wounded victims to climb out of the concrete rubble of Soviet-era apartment blocks and navigate streets strewn with shattered glass.
The escalating violence drew international condemnation, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denouncing pro-Russian rebels for tearing up a September ceasefire and US Vice President Joe Biden saying the costs would “continue to rise on Russia” over the conflict.
Donetsk People’s Republic’s leader Alexander Zakharchenko had earlier said that “today, we launched an offensive against Mariupol,” in quotes carried by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.
Although he later said his forces were still “saving their strength” and had “conducted no active operations in Mariupol,” he described the potential capture of the industrial port as “the best tribute possible for all our dead.”
His deputy earlier denied responsibility for the civilian deaths.
But a spot inspection conducted by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the Grad and Uragan rocket fire came from two locations “controlled by the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic'”.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk immediately asked the United Nations Security Council to censure Russia for allegedly spearheading the militants’ advance on the biggest pro-Kiev city left standing in the decimated war zone.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko interrupted his trip on Saturday to Saudi Arabia to offer condolences after the death of King Abdullah to chair an emergency National Security and Defense Council meeting in Kiev.
“We are for peace but also accept the enemy’s challenge. We will defend our motherland the way real patriots do — until a full victory,” he said in a statement. AFP