The Ukrainian military has restored control over an airport in eastern town of Kramatorsk from pro-Russian militants, acting president Oleksander Turchinov said on Tuesday in a statement from his office.
The mayor of Kramatorsk said Ukrainian troops have now occupied the military airport and are blocking its entrance, Associated Press reported.
Ukraine deployed large numbers of troops in the eastern region on Tuesday as the interim president announced “anti-terrorist operation” to root out the separatists.
Much of the focus Tuesday was around the eastern city of Slovyansk, 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border, which has come under the increasing control of the gunmen who seized it last weekend.
An Associated Press reporter saw at least 14 armored personnel carriers with Ukrainian flags, one helicopter and military trucks parked 40 kilometers (24 miles) north of the city.
Other heavy military equipment appeared nearby, along with at least seven busloads of government troops in black military fatigues.
“We are awaiting the order to move on Sloyvansk,” said one soldier, who gave only his first name, Taras.
Two of the helicopters loaded with troops later took off and headed toward Slovyansk.
Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported that Ukrainian army troops wounded two pro-Russian militiamen Tuesday during a skirmish near a small airport in Kramatorsk, not far from Slovyansk. The report could not independently be confirmed.
RIA Novosti said the troops drove to the airport n an armored personnel carrier, started talking to the gunmen who control the site and a skirmish broke out. It did not elaborate.
The armed pro-Russian militias are occupying government, police and other administrative buildings in at least nine cities in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east of the country, demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia, Associated Press reported.
Russia said it was deeply concerned on Tuesday over reports of casualties in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev has launched an operation against pro-Russian separatists.
“The reports we are getting cause deep concern. To all appearances, events are beginning to develop under the worst case scenario,” Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry’s human rights representative, was quoted by state news agency RIA as saying.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said Ukraine was on the verge of civil war.
“I will be brief: Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, it’s frightening,” the country’s former president was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
Medvedev expressed hope that Ukraine’s “de-facto authorities” would be reasonable and not to allow “this sort of terrible turmoil.”
Russia does not recognize Kiev’s pro-Western authorities who came to power after a popular uprising ousted Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.