Ukraine crisis: Now the city of Slovyansk has been recaptured, will Donetsk be next?

As Ukrainian forces regain control of one major city, people wonder if rebel stronghold Donestsk can hold out

Slovyansk

In Lenin Square, a series of blue and yellow banners flew from flagpoles. From a large speaker, the volume turned up higher than was entirely necessarily, were being broadcast the day’s business in the national parliament in Kiev.

Until two weeks ago, this city in eastern Ukraine was a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists and Igor Girkin, military commander of the self-styled Donestsk People’s Republic (DPR), had personal oversight of its defences. But then, after weeks of fighting, Ukrainian forces pushed once again into the city and the fighters of the DPR fled. Its two-and-a-half-month control of the city was over.

Today, many people in Slovyansk believe the city of Donetsk, where the DPR has its headquarters, is soon going to experience a similar fate. Whether the fighters there put up a battle or ultimately melt away, as they allegedly did in Slovyansk, remains to be seen.

“I think the situation will be the same as it was here. I think they will run away,” said a man called Ramin, pushing a child’s pushchair across the square on Wednesday afternoon. Ramin, who only wanted to give one name and who said he had a business repairing shoes, added: “They will not fight, for sure.”

 

Amid the attention focused on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the horrors at the fields where the wreckage came down and the struggle to have the remains flown out of the country, the context for the alleged shooting of the Boeing 777 has sometimes been overlooked.

But this part of eastern Ukraine remains a zone of bitter conflict with clashes taking place on an almost daily basis. On Wednesday, Ukraine said two of its fighter jets had been shot down by pro-Russian militants, the latest in a series of downing and one of the reasons the US and UK have said they believe militants brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight, believing erroneously it was a Ukrainian military jet.

Video: Pro-Russian militant: 'The Ukrainian side shelled civilians'

A spokesman for Ukraine's military operations said the planes were downed near Savur Mogila, a burial mound in the Shaktersky region where a memorial marks ambushes by the Soviet army on occupying Nazis during World War Two.

Later, Ukraine's Security Council said the military jets were hit by missiles that, according to preliminary information, were launched from Russia. “They were shot down very professionally. The terrorists do not have such professionals,” said Andriy Lysenko, the council's spokesman, according to the Reuters news agency.

The city of Slovyansk bears signs of only modest damage caused by the fighting between rebel forces and Ukrainian troops. Several buildings have been destroyed, some markets wrecked by fire. A number of people appear traumatised by the still recent experience.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk speaks to Ukrainian Army soldiers outside of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine (AP) Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk speaks to Ukrainian Army soldiers outside of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine (AP)
An 80-year-old woman who gave her name only as Mrs Benderenko, said she had been in Slovyansk all the time and had regularly heard the bomb blasts and shooting. Part of her apartment block had been damaged. She sobbed as she railed against both sides.

“Why are they killing ordinary people. Who is going to look after all those children without fathers?” she asked. “I was here every day it was going. If God wanted me to die, then very well.”

In the aftermath of the capture of Slovyansk, Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, claimed the victory was a turning point in the army’s efforts to crush the rebels in eastern Ukraine. He had ordered a resumption of military operations after declining to extend a ceasefire. He also suggested that his troops would now push on further.

“My order is now in effect - tighten the ring around the terrorists,” he said on social media. “Continue the operation to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This is not full victory. But the clearing out of people armed to the teeth from Slovyansk has huge symbolic importance. It is the beginning of the turning point.”

Reports said that the rebel military commander in Slovyansk, Igor Girkin, better known as Igor Strelkov, managed to escape with up to 90 per cent of his fighters. He is now overseeing the defences of Donetsk.

Yet Mr Strelkov has been implicated in the shooing down of MF17. At the same time it was reported that officials had lost contact with the civilian airliner on route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, he posted on social media that his men had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. As it emerged the plane that had gone down in eastern Ukraine was a civilian jet, he deleted his posts, but not before copies were made.

Rebel military commander Igor Strelkov (AP) Rebel military commander Igor Strelkov (AP)
It remains unclear how many people have been killed in the fighting in eastern Ukraine that has been raging since rebels seized control of a number of major cities in areas close to the Russian border and voiced their intention to declare independence. The rebels, and many local people, say hundreds or thousands have died. They blame the Ukrainain troops.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross urged both sides to both protect civilians and take what measures they can to help search for the remains of those on board MH17.

In a statement, the ICRC also said international law required warring parties to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects such as schools.

“The parties to the conflict must ensure the highest possible standards are met as regards search, recovery, handling and identification of the remains, and must keep the bereaved informed throughout the process,” it said,

In Slovyansk, officials say they are working to restore the city and ensure services such as water and electricity are available. They are also in the process of trying to collate who many people were killed in the fighting.

In an interview in the city’s main administration building, acting mayor Tatiana Maaliy said Slovyansk had been a “dead city”. She claimed people who had fled to escape the violence were slowing coming back and the population now stood at around 70 per cent of what it was before the fighting. She said: “The city is returning to life.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Manager

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager & Store Supervisor

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific