Ukraine crisis: 'Many' pro-Russians killed and injured in Slavyansk offensive, President Turchynov claims

Two Ukrainian soldiers have also died after rebels shot down military helicopters used in 'anti-terror' operation

Many rebels have been killed, injured or arrested during the major Ukraine offensive in Slavyansk, the interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has said in a statement.

Ukrainian government forces launched an anti-terror operation to retake the rebel stronghold today.

Mr Turchynov said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Friday's clashes. The interim President said the operation was not progressing as quickly as hoped.

Earlier, pro-Russian rebels shot down two helicopters, killing two crew, after Ukrainian officials said Slavyansk was "tightly surrounded" and called on separatist leaders to release hostages and surrender.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the offensive was answered with heavy artillery, with the rebels using grenade and portable anti-aircraft missile launchers to bring down planes.

Read more: Slavyansk pro-Russian rebels shoot down two helicopters

By late afternoon, the Ukrainian Security Service said the army controlled half of Slavyansk - a claim that could not be immediately verified. Central Slavyansk still remained in the hands of pro-Russia gunmen, according to Associated Press journalists in the city.

Meanwhile, journalists from Sky News, CBS News and Buzzfeed who were covering the unrest in eastern Ukraine have been freed after being detained by pro-Russia insurgents.

Sky News offered no details about its crew but said they were released after being detained near Slavyansk.

CBS correspondent Clarissa Ward and her crew, and Buzzfeed Mideast correspondent Mike Giglio, were taken into custody after being stopped at a checkpoint outside the city.

Ms Ward said she and her crew were bound with tape and transported to another location, and one of her male colleagues was beaten while being held captive. Ward and Giglio said they both heard discussions among their captors about keeping the journalists as hostages.

Russia has now called for an emergency meeting of the UN Council to address the growing crisis. Moscow has asked for what will be the council's 13th meeting on the crisis, and the spokesman's office for the UN secretary-general confirmed the open meeting would be held later today.

Yesterday, Russia had vowed "catastrophic consequences" if Kiev conducted a military operation, The Voice of Russia has reported.

Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of launching a "punitive operation" in south-east Ukraine, destroying the final hope of keeping alive the Geneva agreement designed to defuse the crisis, Russian news agencies reported.

The Kremlin said Kiev's military assault "destroyed" the two-week-old agreement made in Geneva aimed at diffusing the crisis.

The European Union meanwhile has said it is watching events "with increasing concern".

Describing today's operation as "the active phase of the anti-terrorist operation", Mr Avakov said its goals were simple - "free the hostages, lay down their arms and free administrative buildings, and restore the normal functioning of the town's administration".

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
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
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

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£36500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenan...

The Jenrick Group: Multi Skilled Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Multi Skill...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'