Sunday, 13 July 2014
Ukraine conflict: Ground forces 'storming Luhansk'
Government forces in eastern Ukraine have begun storming the rebel-held city of Luhansk with tanks, Russian news agency reports quoting rebels say. Heavy fighting erupted as columns of government armour attacked from the south and west, rebel military leader Igor Strelkov was quoted as saying. He said there were unconfirmed reports of special forces landing by helicopter inside the city of 425,000 people. There was no immediate confirmation from Kiev but bloggers report fighting. Pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting the government in Kiev since declaring independence in Luhansk and the neighbouring region of Donetsk in April. "Heavy fighting is under way on the outskirts of Luhansk," Strelkov told Ria-Novosti news agency. "The enemy has thrown around 70 tanks into the battle in two compact groups of armour. There is as yet unconfirmed information about a helicopter landing of enemy special forces in the city itself." The rebels were fighting artillery skirmishes with the Ukrainian army "along the front", he said. Ukrainian forces entered the village of Sabivka, just west of Luhansk, on Sunday, according to a report (in Russian) on the local anti-rebel news website Informator, Shooting broke out and local residents took shelter in cellars, it said. Another local pro-Ukrainian news website, 0642.ua, also reported fighting in Sabivka, quoting an unnamed local woman. Fighting was also reported around 17:00 (14:00 GMT) just south of Luhansk, in the villages of Heorhiivka and Rozkishne, by the Luhansk news website sxid.info. An Luhansk anonymous blogger, who tweets as @journal1st_88, wrote of hearing explosions, sirens, shooting and planes flying overhead in Luhansk. The government began an "anti-terrorist operation" in April to crush the rebellion in the eastern regions. On Friday, it suffered one of its heaviest losses when an armoured column was hit by rebel rockets in Donetsk region and at least 19 soldiers were killed and about 100 injured. More than 1,000 civilians and combatants are believed to have died in the fighting since April. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced he will not be attending the football World Cup final in Brazil. He had been expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin there to discuss the crisis.