This story is over 5 years old
News by VICE

Ukrainian Troops Confront Eastern Separatists as Russian Troops Mass Along the Border

After two tortured bodies turned up in Sloviansk, Ukrainian officials seemed determined to break the prolonged standoff in eastern Ukraine.

by Alice Speri
Apr 25 2014, 10:30pm

Photo via Getty

As turmoil continues to unfold in cities held by separatists is eastern Ukraine, the interim government in Kiev announced earlier this week that they would carry out military operations to regain control of the region.

It wasn’t their first warning.

After pro-Russia protesters seized government buildings in a number of cities earlier this month, Kiev's ultimatums and threats of intervention didn’t have much effect.

But after the tortured bodies of two men who had recently disappeared — including a local politician from the Sloviansk area — were discovered on Tuesday amid a string of abductions, Ukrainian officials seemed more determined to break the prolonged standoff.

On Thursday, they sent troops into Sloviansk to push out separatist militias. At least five separatists were reported killed.

The following videos show Ukrainian forces storming barricades and checkpoints set up by pro-Russia militias on the outskirts of Sloviansk.

Ukrainian forces carried out a military operation in Sloviansk on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, announced on Friday that the ICC would open a “preliminary examination” in Ukraine to determine whether alleged crimes that took place during the Euromaidan protests warrant a full investigation.

But observers worry that the military escalation in eastern Ukraine will only increase tension with Russia, which has accused Kiev officials of waging a "war on their own people.” The Kremlin has repeatedly asserted its right to intervene to defend Russian-speakers “anywhere.”

“This is a bloody crime,” Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of Thursday’s military offense. “Those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied being behind the escalating unrest in the region. But it also denied sending troops into Crimea — and we all know how that ended.

To remind Kiev of Russian military might, the Kremlin has stacked some 40,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Sergei Shoigu, Russia's defense minister, said Thursday that the troops would conduct drills along the border as a response to Kiev's offensive.

Ukraine's interim government has noted that Russian troops have come as close as one kilometer to its border, and has promised to treat any incursion as an invasion.

Russia's provocations were not confined to land. Its jets crossed into Ukrainian airspace several times during the last 24 hours, according to US officials quoted by the Associated Press — yet another signal to Kiev authorities that Russia is preparing to step in.

It wasn't clear if the aerial incursions were meant as a simple show of force or if they were intended to test Ukrainian radars, the unnamed officials told the AP.

Meanwhile, Western leaders once again stepped up their rhetoric against Moscow this week. US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that Moscow was running out of time to “change its course” in Ukraine.

“In plain sight, Russia continues to fund, to coordinate, and fuel a heavily armed separatist movement in Donetsk,” Kerry said. “The world knows that peaceful protesters don't come armed with grenade launchers and automatic weapons, the latest issue from the Russian arsenal, hiding the insignias on their brand new matching military uniforms, and speaking in dialects that every local knows come from thousands of miles away.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia on Thursday of escalating conflict in Ukraine.

Kerry also accused Russia's “propaganda bullhorn” of promoting “President Putin's fantasy about what is playing out on the ground.” He singled out the Russia Today network in particular.

A hint of that fantasy was plain to see in a recent tweet by RT's editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, who early on Thursday declared Ukraine “dead” to her 161,000 followers. “Ukraine R.I.P.” she wrote, in a mix of Russian and English.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi