Pro-Russia agitators keep agitating in eastern Ukraine.
Today Ukrainian media reported that pro-Russia forces are in control or partial control of nine cities in the eastern part of the country. At the same time, Kiev’s anti-terror campaign kicked off today with an attack on a military airbase in Kramatorsk, north of Donetsk, that had been captured by pro-Russia groups.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry forces, backed by armored vehicles and the occasional airstrike, were able to retake the airbase. While the Ukrainian government reported there were no fatalities during the operation, Russian state sources claimed that between four and 11 people died. After the fighting subsided, the base was reportedly surrounded by a mob of Russia boosters who were…in a questionable state of sobriety. This allegedly resulted in some scuffles.
Following the recapture of the airbase, Ukrainian forces also started operations in the neighboring city of Sloviansk — or Slavyansk, if you prefer Russia’s version of the English spelling of a Ukrainian city.
No outcome has been reported yet. However, the Ukrainian Security Service’s Donetsk Office has opened a criminal case against the mayor of the city, a Viktor Yanukovich appointee named Nelia Shtepa, on separatism charges for her role in the uprising in that city.
Pro-Russian activists remove the Ukrainian emblem from City Hall in Sloviansk.
Throughout eastern Ukraine, as much as half of local police have reportedly aligned themselves with Russian interests, and have been instrumental in taking and holding various government buildings — including, as one might expect, police stations. In the city of Horlivka yesterday, a man claiming to be a Russian Lieutenant Colonel freshly arrived from Simferopol addressed police.
However, he was later identified by a local news outlet as Bezler, a local criminal boss who was, among other things, fired from a funeral home in 2012 for stealing 38 enclosures and monuments, as well as shaking down prospective elderly folks trying to buy funeral plots. A separate report asserts that Bezler was formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian Spetsnaz [Special Forces].
According to First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema, several hundred Russian Spetsnaz soldiers are already operating in Ukraine, having infiltrated the country over the past several weeks. Local online news source Poltavashchyna quotes Yarema as saying, “Right now, they’ve concentrated their strength in Krasniy Lyman, Horlivka, Kramatorsk, and Sloviansk (all in Donetsk Oblast); the terrorists are committing violent acts against police officers and are taking over government buildings.”
The report goes on to identify the soldiers as being members of the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Regiment of the VDV — the VDV are Russian airborne troops — based near Moscow.
Meanwhile in Kiev, a pro-Russia politician named Mikhail Dobkin, who was on his way to a television appearance, was beaten and splattered with flour and green dye at the same station where pro-Russia Ukrainian Presidential candidate Oleg Tsaryov was attacked following a live broadcast earlier today. Authorities in Kiev have announced that they are beginning a criminal investigation of Tsaryov on charges of separatism.