UK & World News

  • 6 July 2014, 6:24

Ukrainian 'Turning Point' As Rebels Flee City

Ukrainian government forces have re-gained control of the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk, a flashpoint city in the fighting between Kiev's troops and pro-Russian insurgents.

Ukraine's Defence Ministry said Ukrainian soldiers hoisted the national flag in the eastern town after pushing out the pro-Russian insurgents.

"...The Ukrainian national flag was raised over the Slavyansk city council before a line-up of Ukrainian soldiers," said a statement posted on the Ukrainian administration's website, citing Defence Minister Valeriy Geletey.

Mr Geletey later visited the town, pledging that three planes loaded with food and other supplies would follow.

Slavyansk had been in rebel hands since early April when they seized key administrative buildings in the city of some 120,000 people.

Government soldiers could be seen carrying stockpiles of weapons out of police and council buildings.

The recapture of Slavyansk marks a major victory for the government which renewed an offensive against the rebels earlier this week.

President Petro Poroshenko said it was "the start of a turning point" in the three-month conflict that has claimed more than 400 lives.

The rebels reportedly fled in the face of sustained fire from Ukrainian forces, who one source close to the rebels said had outnumbered them 50 to one.

Aleksandr Borodai, a leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying: "The punitive forces of Ukraine ... moved into a large-scale offensive.

"Given the disproportionate numerical superiority of the enemy troops, units of the armed forces of the Donetsk People's Republic were forced to leave their previous positions on the northern sector of the front."

The insurgents have pledged to regroup elsewhere and fight on.

This week, Ukraine's ceasefire with pro-Russian separatists expired and Mr Poroshenko said his forces would go on the offensive against the rebels.

But, amid increasing violence, Mr Poroshenko on Friday called for immediate crisis talks with rebel commanders and Russia.