Ukraine’s acting president on Sunday claimed that Russia was waging war against the country by supported armed separatists who have seized government buildings in Ukraine’s eastern cities.
“Blood has been spilt in a war that is being waged against Ukraine by Russia,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in a televised address to the nation, adding that he had ordered the launch of a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” against the pro-Moscow militants, Agence France-Presse reported.
Turchinov offered not to prosecute any militants who gave up their weapons by Monday morning.
Earlier on Sunday, both sides have suffered casualties during a raid by Ukrainian special forces on a police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by pro-Russian gunmen, AFP reported Ukraine’s interior minister as saying.
“There are dead and wounded on both sides,” minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday.
“On our side - an ABU (Ukrainian Security Service) officer... On [the] side of the separatists -- an unidentified number... The separatists have started to protect themselves using human shields.”
The gunmen were wearing orange and black ribbons, a symbol of the Soviet victory in World War Two that has been adopted by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and replaced the Ukrainian flag on the building with a Russian tricolor, Reuters reported.
The city’s mayor was shown on television saying she supported the takeover and the gunmen were members of a local militia demanding more autonomy from Kiev.
One of the masked gunmen said they wanted “to live comfortably, peacefully free from the junta in Kiev who have seized the country.”
The raid followed the announcement by Avakov of an “anti-terrorist operation” in Slavyansk to end pro-Russia separatists’ control over police and security services buildings.
“An anti-terrorist operation has begun in Slavyansk. It is being directed by the anti-terrorist center of the state security service,” the minister wrote on his Facebook page.
“Units from all of the country’s force structures are participating. May God be with us,” he added.
On Saturday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on all sides in the Ukraine crisis to “exercise maximum restraint” and engage in dialogue to de-escalate the situation there, AFP reported.
Ban’s appeal came as Ukraine accused Moscow of “aggression” after Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen seized two security buildings in its restive eastern rust belt amid spreading protests demanding the Russified region join Kremlin rule.
Ban is “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating situation and “growing potential for violent clashes,” a U.N. statement said.
The secretary general “appeals to all sides to work towards calming the situation, adhere to the rule of law and exercise maximum restraint,” the statement added.
He also “calls again for urgent and constructive dialogue to de-escalate the situation and address all differences.”
Moscow denies having any designs on other regions of Ukraine and says it has not provided support to the militants.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine must be protected from possible persecution by the interim authorities in Kiev.
(With Reuters and AFP)SHOW MORE