Separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic are still occupying government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, after Kiev issued a deadline to leave. These pro-Russian rebels have taken over multiple official buildings in the Donbass region, of which Donetsk is the capitol. Other eastern provinces are similarly overrun with Pro-Russian rebels.
Earlier Tuesday, a Ukrainian government spokesman said Kiev would utilize “precise weaponry” against the rebels in Donetsk if they did not leave by 4 p.m. local time. Fox News reported there were no signs of military action by the Ukrainian government as of an hour past the deadline.
The deadline on Tuesday came partly in response to a thwarted attempt on Monday by rebels to capture Ukraine’s second largest airport, located near Donetsk. At least 50 rebels died in that conflict, including two civilians, and many more were injured.
Kiev’s strong response on Monday was spurred by president-elect Petro Poroshenko, the confectionary tycoon billionaire who held majority in Ukraine’s recent poll count early Monday as reported by Ukraine’s Central Elections Commission. Poroshenko declared that quelling the large terrorist uprisings in the east by way of military intervention “should and will last hours,” rather than months.
Poroshenko has declared that his top priorities as Ukrainian President are to participate with Russia to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, and to create closer ties with the European Union. Voters in eastern Ukraine had a difficult time casting ballots in the presidential elections on Sunday, as regional officials indicated that as many as 75 percent of polling booths were shut down by separatists.
The separatists of eastern Ukraine recognize various areas in the east they are occupying as independent states, and claim Kiev has no jurisdiction there, even in light of the deadline that was issued Tuesday. They believe that the recent presidential election was conducted fraudulently. This view runs in accord with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denouncement of the coup of previous Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukobych in February 2014 as unconstitutional. Putin demanded a ceasefire against the largely Russian speaking separatists after the Donetsk airport conflict.
However, Moscow has said it is prepared to work with Poroshenko. After the coup in February, the interim government performed few open scale military actions against the rebels. Part of the reason was to avoid direct military engagement with Russia, which before and after the annexation of the Crimea peninsula has had thousands of troops lined against the border, ostensibly to protect Russian speakers and sympathizers. With the democratic election of Poroshenko, supported by world leaders such as U.S. President Obama, Kiev could be emboldened to perform more aggressive military actions against the eastern uprisings.
First Deputy Prime Minister of the interim government stated, “We’ll continue the anti-terrorist operation until not a single terrorist remains on the territory of Ukraine.” Kiev and Western countries continue to insist that these terrorists are backed by Russia, working for Russian military intelligence. Moscow denies any control, claiming they are an unassociated grassroots movement.
As fighting in the Donetsk airport was winding down Tuesday, an unidentified group set fire to Donetsk’s main ice-hockey arena, which was slated to host the world championships in 2015. There is no word issued from Kiev yet on subsequent actions to be taken on the People’s Republic’s continued occupation of official eastern Ukranian buildings.
By Jesse Eells-Adams