Ukraine crisis: Troops oust pro-Russians to reclaim rebel-held Slavyansk

The eastern city had been held by separatists for months

The Ukrainian army has re-taken a key separatist stronghold from rebels in one of its first major military successes in the three-month conflict.

Pro-Russian rebels were reportedly retreating from the city of Slavyansk and nearby Kramatorsk on Saturday after an offensive by Government troops that came at the end of a fragile ceasefire.

The Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, said a large number of separatists had fled Slavyansk after sustained fire.

“A significant number of militants have left Slavyansk,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

“Along the way, our battle groups are greeting them. They are suffering losses and surrendering.”

President Petro Poroshenko ordered the Ukrainian flag to be raised over public buildings around the city in place of the Russian banners seen flying since April.

Mr Poroshenko's website said separatist fighters had come under mortar fire as they tried to break through Government lines.

The rebels had lost one tank and other armoured vehicles, the statement said.

A source close to the rebels told Reuters the rebels had been outnumbered by 50 to one and that Government forces had more powerful artillery and weapons.

Aleksandr Borodai, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told the Interfax news agency: “The punitive forces of Ukraine ... moved into a large-scale offensive.

“Given the disproportionate numerical superiority of the enemy troops, units of the armed forces of the Donetsk People's Republic were forced to leave their previous positions on the northern sector of the front.”

A pro-Russian separatist guards a checkpoint near Slavyansk this morning Pro-Russian separatists previously guarded checkpoints in Slavyansk Gaining definitive control of Slavyansk would be Kiev's most notable military victory in three months of fighting, in which more than 200 Ukrainian troops have been killed as well as hundreds of civilians and rebels.

A Ukrainian paratrooper, Eduard, who was at an army checkpoint going into Slavyansk said: “It was a quiet night when suddenly a column of separatists appeared and began firing. They didn't have much luck. Artillery guns hit part of the town and part of those here. Some of them managed to get out.”

The insurgency continues in eastern Ukraine as rebels continue to control state buildings in cities and towns across the region.

Slavyansk, a city of 130,000 people, became a hotbed of resistance under the military command of Igor Strelkov, a Muscovite appointed as defence minister of the Donetsk People's Republic.

Many of the rebel violations of a Government ceasefire that expired last Monday appeared to come from the area.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Read more: Ukrainian President shakes up military leadership
Ukrainian forces launch full-scale attack as ceasefire ends
Poroshenko signs landmark EU deal
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect