Ukraine moves forces to Odessa, helicopter downed in east

Mon May 5, 2014 7:22pm EDT
 

By Aleksandar Vasovic and Maria Tsvetkova

ODESSA/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian rebels shot down a Ukrainian helicopter in fierce fighting near the eastern town of Slaviansk on Monday, and Kiev drafted police special forces to the southwestern port city of Odessa to halt a feared westward spread of rebellion.

Ukraine said the Odessa force, based on "civil activists", would replace local police who had failed to tackle rebel actions at the weekend. Its dispatch was a clear signal from Kiev that, while tackling rebellion in the east, it would vigorously resist any sign of a slide to a broader civil war.

Odessa, with its ethnic mix from Russians to Ukrainians, Georgians to Tatars a cultural contrast to the pro-Russian east, was quiet on Monday. Ukrainian flags flew at half-staff for funerals of some of the dozens killed in clashes on Friday.

But in the east, fighting intensified around the pro-Russian stronghold of Slaviansk, a city of 118,000, where rebel fighters ambushed Ukrainian forces early in the day.

The Interior Ministry said five paramilitary police were killed. Separatists said four of their number had also died.

The sound of an air-raid siren could be heard in the center of Slaviansk, and a church bell rang in the main square.

The self-declared pro-Russian mayor of Slaviansk Vyacheslav Ponomarev told Reuters by telephone: "(The Ukrainians) are deploying ever more forces here. Recently there was a parachute drop. ... For us, they are not military, but fascists."

Russia's Foreign Ministry called on Kiev to "stop the bloodshed, withdraw forces and finally sit down at the negotiating table". It also published an 80-page report detailing "widespread and gross human rights violations" in Ukraine over the past six months for which it blamed the new government and its Western allies.   Continued...

 
Police stand guard inside a regional government building at the Black Sea port of Odessa May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich