OLENIVKA: Ukraine warned on Thursday that its “all-out” assault on pro-Russian insurgents may last another month and rejected calls for a ceasefire as it pushed tanks within striking distance of the rebels’ two remaining strongholds.
An AFP team about 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the eastern hub of Donetsk — a million-strong city to which most of the militias have retreated since the weekend — saw heavy armoured vehicles fan out across the rolling corn and sunflower fields of the economically-vital rustbelt.
An earthmover’s engine stuttered in the stifling heat as it dug trenches to help troops dodge artillery strikes from thousands of insurgents who are refusing to give up their bloody three-month drive to join Russian rule.
“We arrived here last night,” said a balaclava-wearing soldier named Yuriy as his comrades stretched electric cables to a nearby farm to power up their equipment.
AFP reporters 30 kilometres (18) miles) west of Donetsk also heard echoes of heavy artillery fire around the town of Korlivka — held by the separatists since early April with the alleged help of Russian financial and military support.
The interior ministry added to the confident new tone resonating throughout Kiev by reporting the launch of “an all-out attack... across several parts of the front”. But what may have looked like bravado just a few weeks ago seemed to the bearing out the streets of eastern industrial cities that were once the economic driving engine of both the Soviet Union and Ukraine but now resemble half-gutted ghost towns.
Donetsk separatist “prime minister” Oleksandr Borodai admitted that he was on the verge of ordering a partial evacuation of the city because his men had still not received the additional shipments of heavy arms they had urgently sought from Moscow. “Russia must be ready to receive several hundred thousands refugees,” he told reporters.
Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Stanislav Rechinsky announced on state television that it looked like the last of the eastern insurgency would be crush “within a month”. Rechinsky added “there will be no air or artillery strikes” against Donetsk or its neighbouring rebel hub of Lugansk because of the toll in the low-scale war had already claimed more than 500 lives.
The Ukrainian health ministry said its earlier report of 478 civilians deaths in the eastern offensive was issued in error because it included those who had passed away from natural causes.
Fears of a civil war breaking out on the EU’s easter frontier have redoubled European efforts to force Kiev to negotiate truce terms that could help calm the most explosive East-West standoff since the Cold War. The tide in the conflict turned Saturday when insurgents abandoned their Slavyansk bastion.
Kiev paints the insurgency as a proxy war being waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin in reprisal for the February ouster of an allied administration and the collapse of his dream to push Ukraine into a powerful new post-Soviet bloc.
BAGHDAD/BEIRUT: Shia Muslim militiamen and Iraqi army forces launched a counter-offensive against ...