Ukraine crisis: Putin calls for Ukrainian government to stop crackdown on rebels

At least 30 pro-Russian insurgents died in Donetsk yesterday

Vladimir Putin has called for the Ukrainian army to immediately end its operation against pro-Russian rebels after dozens were killed in bloody clashes.

In his first public comments on Ukraine since Sunday's presidential election, the Russian President also stepped up pressure on Kiev to start a dialogue with rebel leaders as fighting continued.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin had spoken to the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, by telephone and “underscored the need for an immediate halt to the punitive military operation in the southeastern regions and the establishment of peaceful dialogue between Kiev and representatives of the regions".

Russia said it started to withdraw troops stationed along its border with Ukraine since the start of the crisis but Nato said many remain.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, reiterated calls for an immediate end to violence, according to Russian news agencies.

He said halting bloodshed in Ukraine's southeast was the most important task for the authorities in Kiev and the new President and warned that efforts to put down the separatists could backfire.

At least 30 rebels were killed in heavy fighting with the Ukrainian army in Donetsk on Monday and the Ukrainian military has taken back control of the besieged airport.

Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, the Mayor of Donetsk, claimed 48 people, including two civilians, were killed on the day, while rebel leaders said the death toll could reach 100.

Government forces used fighter jets and helicopter gunships against the pro-Russian rebels who had taken over the city’s international airport on Monday.

The newly-elected President, Petro Poroshenko, had vowed to crush the rebellion in the east of the country “in a matter of hours”.

One insurgent, who did not give his name, said outside the hospital in Donetsk that 30 bodies of his fellow insurgents were taken there.

The lorry carrying the bodies was still parked outside the hospital, waiting for explosives experts to check for any unexploded weapons, he said.

Sustained artillery and gunfire was heard from the airport in Donetsk on Monday and dense black smoke could be seen in the air.

Many flights were delayed or cancelled and access to the airport was blocked by police.

Pro-Russia gunmen taking up positions near Donetsk airport. Pro-Russia gunmen taking up positions near Donetsk airport.

The air strikes against the separatists in control of Donetsk airport appeared to be the most visible Government military operation yet since it started a crackdown on insurgents last month.

Two civilians, including an elderly woman, were reportedly killed by stray bullets during the fighting at nearby Donetsk railway station.

The chaos continued on Tuesday and posters went up in the streets telling people how to act if shooting broke out and where bomb shelters were located. Schools were closed and parents were warned to keep their children indoors.

On the road to Donetsk airport, Reuters journalists saw blood-spattered and bullet-riddled trucks of the kind the separatist fighters have been using.

A Kamaz truck lay wrecked on the airport road, covered in blood and completely riddled with bullet holes. Blood had spattered across the entire roadway and even reached a billboard seven metres above, they said.

Pro-Russian separatists reportedly first stormed the airport early on Sunday, ejecting the airport security staff and Ukrainian soldiers guarding the site.

It was the second time this month that they have occupied the international airport, whose vast new terminal was built for the 2012 European Football Championships.

Known as the “chocolate king”, confectionery billionaire Mr Poroshenko won Sunday's presidential vote.

He has vowed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis but dubbed pro-Russian rebels “terrorists” and compared them to Somali pirates.

Russia has supported the decentralisation of Ukraine’s government to give the regions more autonomy and wants troops to be withdrawn from eastern and southern parts of the country that have seen unrest.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters

Read more:
Russia 'ready to talk' with Ukraine
Government launches air strike against rebels
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

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'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
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
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral