1 of 5
An armed man stands near of Pro-Russian protester’s barricade in front of the occupied police station in Slaviansk (Pic: EPA) Pro-Russian protester’s man a barricade in Slaviansk (Pic: EPA) Armed men maintain their position in front of the seized police headquarters in Slaviansk (Pic: EPA) Men dressed in camouflage uniforms stormed the building (Pic: EPA) Pro-Russian separatists have taken over the police building (Pic: EPA)
A Ukrainian state security service officer has died and five others were wounded in an “anti-terrorist” operation in the eastern city of Slaviansk.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page that there had been an “unidentifiable number” of casualties among Pro-Russian separatists during the operation.
“There were dead and wounded on both sides,” Mr Avakov said.
About 1,000 people were giving support to the separatists, he added
Any operation to dislodge the militants risks tipping the stand-off into a new, dangerous phase.
Moscow has warned it will act to protect eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers if they come under attack.
Mr Avakov said security units from across the country had been brought in to launch an “anti-terrorist operation” to re-assert Kiev’s control in Slaviansk.
A Reuters reporter in the city, about 150km from the Ukraine-Russia border, said two military helicopters were flying over the town’s police headquarters where militants were holed up.
“Pass this on to all civilians: they should leave the centre of town, not come out of their apartments, and not go near the windows,” Mr Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.
In the nearby town of Kramatorsk, militants exchanged gunfire with police late yesterday, though there was no confirmation any one had been hurt.
Novosti Donbass, a local Internet news site, said that government forces had taken down two rebel barricades at entry points into Slaviansk, but there was no independent confirmation of this.
Residents in the town did not appear to have heeded the appeal by Mr Avakov and families were out on the streets on their normal Sunday business.
In Washington, the White House expressed concern that the seizures of public buildings in eastern Ukraine could be a prelude to a Russian military incursion, though Moscow has strenuously denied any such intention.
“We call on President (Vladimir) Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and we caution against further military intervention,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
US Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kiev on 22 April, becoming the most senior US official to visit the country since the crisis began there.
Moscow justified sending its military into Crimea by saying the Russian population there was under threat, and some in Western governments believe the Kremlin is preparing a similar scenario for eastern Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied any such intentions and said instead it was Ukraine’s Western-leaning government, viewed by the Kremlin as illegitimate, that was stoking the tensions.
Any use of force against Russian speakers “would undermine the potential for cooperation” between Moscow and Western powers over Ukraine, Mr Lavrov said in a statement after a telephone call with his US opposite number John Kerry.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon said in a statement he was deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine and “the growing potential for violent clashes”.