Dozens dead as Ukraine claims control of Donetsk airport

May 27 2014, 17:36 IST
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SummaryUkraine said today it had regained control of the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk after a day of punishing air strikes and fierce fighting with pro-Russian separatist gunmen left dozens of people dead.

Ukraine said today it had regained control of the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk after a day of punishing air strikes and fierce fighting with pro-Russian separatist gunmen left dozens of people dead.

The battle for the main transport hub in the rebel-held east erupted yesterday, in a sharp escalation of the conflict after president-elect Petro Poroshenko vowed to take a tough stand against the "terrorists".

"The airport is under our full control. The enemy suffered heavy losses. We have none," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

He said however that the military was continuing its operation at the airport, and AFP journalists reported hearing explosions and heavy gunfire during the morning.

Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko told reporters that two civilians and 38 combatants had died, while rebel leaders suggested that the toll among their ranks could be higher.

An AFP correspondent reported seeing body parts and blood splattered near a bullet-riddled truck on the airport road, where makeshift blockades had been set up with dumper trucks and piles of tyres.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for all sides to halt the violence.

"The number one task for the Kiev authorities and the test of their durability, taking into consideration the results of the presidential election is bringing an immediate end to the use of the army against the public and an end to any violence by all sides," Lavrov said.

Ukrainian combat jets and helicopter gunships had attacked the Donetsk airport terminal yesterday after it was seized by scores of separatist gunmen waging an insurgency against Kiev's rule.

The strikes represented the most forceful action by Kiev in its battle to crush a bloody pro-Moscow rebellion that has raged in the coal and steel belt since early April, threatening to tear apart the former Soviet state.

The fighting flared on the very day that billionaire oligarch Poroshenko was formally declared the winner of Sunday's presidential election with 54 per cent of the vote.

The 48-year-old pledged to work to restore stability in Ukraine after months of turmoil and rebuild relations with Russia while steering the country on a westward path.

He said Ukraine would press on with its offensive against the insurgents who control about a dozen cities and towns, saying he wanted it to be faster and "more efficient".

And he insisted there would be "no talks with terrorists" until they

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