DONETSK, Ukraine – New battles raged in Ukraine’s east on July 1 as President Petro Poroshenko announced the end of a shaky 11-day ceasefire and said a new “active phase” of the government’s “anti-terrorist operation” would restart to quash pro-Russian separatists.
“We will attack and we will liberate our land,” Poroshenko said in a televised address just after midnight on July 1. “The end of the ceasefire is our response to terrorists, rebels, looters, all those who mock the civilians who paralyze the economy of the region; who rip the payment of salaries, pensions, stipends; who undermine the railroads, destroy water pipes, those who deprive a normal peaceful life.”
The government’s forces did not waste time, launching their first assaults across Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts even as the president spoke from Kyiv.
Confirming the restart of the counterinsurgency operation was Ukraine’s parliament speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov.
“I had the chance this morning to speak with the interior and defense ministers and can inform you that as of this morning, the active phase of the antiterrorist operation has been renewed,” he told lawmakers early on July 1.
Heavy fighting was reported in the eastern regions from early morning until evening. In Donetsk, separatist gunmen stormed an Interior Ministry building located on the city’s main drag, Artema Street, where they exchanged fire with police who are holding pro-Russian separatists “hostage” inside, according to one rebel fighter.
Another, however, said that the group decided to storm the building after he and others caught word that police had turned over a list of pro-Russian activists to Kyiv. One more fighter gave another story, saying that a group of separatist fighters from nearby Horliva had seized the building – which is on the Donetsk group’s turf – and that they were attempting to take it back. The Kyiv Post could not confirm either version of the event.
In Kramatorsk, mortars and missiles rained down from Ukrainian positions onto insurgents who have controlled the city since April. Six people were killed and at least five were wounded when a bus carrying civilians came under fire there, local news site Kramatorsk.INFO reported. Photographs of the scene showed a bullet-riddled yellow bus and a woman’s body sprawled out in the aisle. It remains unclear which side opened fire on the bus.
Also in Kramatorsk, the 220-meter high TV tower atop Karachun Hill, where Ukrainian government forces had been stationed for weeks, was toppled after an apparent explosion snapped its supports.
Photographs published on the website of local media and shared on Twitter and Facebook showed massive holes in the sides of apartment buildings and craters on the streets of nearby Sloviansk following heavy shelling by Ukrainian troops there.
Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, a Russian citizen and commander of the Sloviansk rebel fighters, said that many civilians in the city and in surrounding villages sustained injuries during the shelling, but that his militia had not suffered any losses, according to pro-Russian blogs.
Meanwhile, two REN TV reporters were wounded in Luhansk region near the border with Russia when Ukrainian government forces shelled the area, a TV station spokesman told the Interfax news agency.
“Our correspondent was injured in Luhansk region, one kilometer from the Russian-Ukrainian border. A REN TV news crew came under mortar fire near the Izvaryne border crossing point outside of Luhansk. Presumably a howitzer projectile exploded near the journalist. Correspondent Denis Lulaga suffered a concussion. He cannot hear anything. Blood is leaking from his ears,” the TV station said, adding that a cameraman also suffered a concussion.
Poroshenko’s announcement came after two four-way calls with the leaders of France, Germany and Russia in which they failed to agree on a solution to end the conflict. Last week, a contact group with representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the separatists met twice in Donetsk in an attempt to find common ground. Those meetings, too, were unsuccessful.
Even during the ceasefire, fighting continued, with separatists violating the deal more than 100 times and killing 27 Ukrainian troops, authorities said.
The president’s decision to end the failed truce was welcomed by some, including Dmitry Tymchuk, a military analyst close to the Ukrainian government and director of the Kyiv-based Information Resistance think tank. He praised the move, saying, “every day the truce, whatever its political significance, provided tangible reinforcement to the terrorists from a military point of new.”
“A longer truce period would give terrorists a chance to drastically increase their combat readiness,” he added.
For its part, Russia urged Ukraine to reinstall the ceasefire.
“We demand that the Ukrainian authorities refrain from shelling civilian cities and villages in their own country, return to a real, not a fake, ceasefire to safeguard the lives of the people,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on July 1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke out against the restart of Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation.”
“Unfortunately, President Poroshenko has decided to resume battle actions. And we could not – I mean myself and my colleagues from Europe – could not convince him that the road to stable, solid and long-term peace can not go through war,” Putin said in Moscow.