Ukraine to launch anti-terror operation

By Peter Leonard

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 13 2014 12:48 p.m. MDT

A pro-Russian gunman stands guard at a seized police station in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Sunday, April 13, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev.

Efrem Lukatsky, Associated Press

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — Ukraine is launching a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" to resist attacks by armed pro-Russian forces, Ukraine's President Oleksandr Turchynov said on Sunday in a televised address.

The authorities in Kiev will use the army in order to prevent Russian troops from moving in as they did in Crimea, Turchynov said as he pledged amnesty to anyone laying down arms by Monday morning.

"The Security Council has made a decision to begin a large-scale anti-terrorist operation with participation of army forces," he said. "We're not going to allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine's east."

Ukrainian special forces exchanged gunfire with a pro-Russia militia in an eastern city Sunday morning, with at least one security officer killed and five others wounded. It was the first reported gunbattle in eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia men have seized a number of government buildings in recent days.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has described such attacks as "Russian aggression." He said in a Facebook post Sunday that special forces of up to 12,000 people will be drawn from volunteers in their local areas in a bid to resist attacks from pro-Russian forces.

Russia's Foreign Ministry was quick to dismiss Turchynov's decree as "criminal" and accused Ukrainian officials of using radical neo-Nazi forces.

Turchynov said a Security Service captain was killed and two colonels wounded in a gunbattle outside Slovyansk, where the police station and the Security Service office were seized a day earlier.

An Associated Press reporter found a bullet-ridden SUV on the side of the road and a pool of blood on the passenger seat where the gunbattle was supposed to have taken place.

Vladimir Kolodchenko, a lawmaker from the area who witnessed the attack, said a car with four gunmen pulled up on the road in a wooden area outside Slovyansk and opened fire on Ukrainian soldiers who were standing beside their vehicles. Both attackers and the Ukrainian servicemen left soon after the shooting.

Unrest has spread to several municipalities in eastern Ukraine, including the major industrial city of Donetsk, which has a large Russian-speaking population.

Donetsk was also the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president ousted in February following months of protests in Kiev, the capital, that were ignited by his decision to back away from closer relations with the European Union and turn toward Russia. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine's east widely fear that the new pro-Western Ukrainian government will suppress them.

The regional administration in Donetsk issued a statement, confirming one dead and saying nine were wounded. It did not identify them, but said one person was shot outside Slovyansk.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Sunday afternoon accusing "the Russian special service and saboteurs" of fomenting unrest and pledging to present "concrete evidence" of Russia's involvement at the Ukraine summit in Geneva on Thursday.

Ukrainian lawmaker Oleh Lyashko said Sunday afternoon that Ukrainian forces in Slovyansk had managed to take control of the city hall, the Security Service's branch and the police station in Slovyansk. This could not be immediately verified.

Earlier in the day, the police station was surrounded by a reinforced line of barricades, but unlike on Saturday the men patrolling were largely unarmed. On the main road into the city, a checkpoint was guarded by armed camouflaged men.

In a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry "expressed strong concern" that the attacks "were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea," according the State Department.

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