Following a late night session of the National Security Council which discussed anti-terrorism measures and the possibility of introducing a state of emergency, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced a counter-terrorist operation would begin in Sloviansk under the leadership of the Security Service (SBU). The operation is said to include units from all service branches in Ukraine.
What happened in Sloviansk?
Initially, Avakov stated that separatists had opened fire on special forces in the city. He then posted a notice to residents of the city to leave the city centre, stay at home, and avoid windows for their own safety. Eyewitnesses noted that the Russian tricolor had been also taken down from atop the city administration. Helicopters have been seen flying over the city, and separatists were said to primarily be guarding barricades erected outside the buildings they had occupied, and along the highway.
Riot police began by clearing a separatist checkpoint leading in to the city. The operation led to the death of two Ukrainian Security Service officers and nine wounded, said the Interior Minister. Acting president Tuchynov’s address to the nation identified an SBU officer as Alpha Group captain Hennadiy Bilichenko. The wounded included Ukrainian military who arrived in three armored personal carriers, according to eyewitnesses and officials. Casualties on the separatists’ side, however, were ‘unidentifiable’ but were said to include deaths, and that the support base of the rebels included 1,000 pro-Russian activists. Russian and Ukrainian news confirmed at least one separatist death in the operation, and Ukrainian military officials confirmed that the remaining gunmen had escaped into the forest.
According to multiple eyewitness reports covered by the Kyiv Post, the separatists instigated the shootout where upon Ukrainian officials approaching a suspect vehicle, four men in camouflage emerged and opened fire on Ukrainian soldiers. The car had a Poltava Oblast license plate, which was traced to the private security firm Yavir.
In the city, two were shot dead by an assailant in plain clothes, including a journalist, and another seriously wounded. Sky News correspondent Katie Stallard, who is in Sloviansk, said that civilians, including the elderly, were being used as human shields to protect pro-Russian forces Ukrainian security advances. Near the city, however, insurgents captured a truck carrying a shipment of rockets to the border.
Ukrainian MP Lesya Orobets has since stated that at least 10 separatists have been killed in clashes, citing 3 sources.
April 15 clashes
Following a direct message from acting defense minister Mykhailo Koval that Ukrainian troops are on full alert to carry out tasks , at 4am Kyiv time Interfax has reported that clashes have broken out on the outskirts of Sloviansk between separatists and what were described as men in black uniforms. Armored personnel carriers have been spotted in the area, and gunshots and explosions heard according to a representative of a self-defense group who spoke to the news service. The source also informs that the village council in Andreevka (outside of Sloviansk) was on fire, and shots were fired. A correspondent for TSN informs that shots were not heard, but there are burning tires. UAInfo has also reported that 10 Russian militants have been shot at a checkpoint in the region, though this is unconfirmed by other sources or if related to Orobets’ previous figure.
UNIAN, ITAR-TASS, and Kommersant have since reported that tanks and heavy military equipment have been seen en route to Sloviansk, with Kommersant providing photos. The information from ITAR-TASS comes from Russian separatist commander Ponomarev. In Kramatorsk, RIA Novosti citing witnesses has reported that armored divisions have also been seen.
Elsewhere in Donetsk region
Separatist activity has been documented in Donetsk (Regional admin. & MVS), Kramatorsk (seized city admin. & police & airport), Druzhkivka, Yenakiyevo (seized city admin.), Mariupol, Makiyivka (seized city admin.), Mariupol, Kostriantynivka, Ilovaysk, Horlivka (attempt to capture police), Dobropillya (attempt to capture police station), and Artemivsk.
The most notable action for the day happened in Mariupol, where the mayor’s office in the southern-Donetsk city was reportedly captured masked separatists this Sunday following a rally which attracted 1,000. Upon storming the building they removed the Ukrainian flag and hoisted both the flags of Russia and the Donetsk Republic. A huge barricade has since been constructed outside the building below a republican banner, while inactive police look on.