Three bridges on key roads leading into the Ukrainian city of Donetsk were blown up Monday. It marked an apparent attempt to slow down any possible assault by government forces on the separatist stronghold.
Separatist fighters driven out of Sloviansk and other eastern towns by the Ukrainian army over the weekend had regrouped in Donetsk. The city of 1 million people includes pro-independent militia that have declared themselves as the Donetsk People’s Republic. Pavel Gubarev, the region’s self-described governor, had promised “real partisan war around the whole perimeter of Donetsk” before thousands of supporters at a rally Sunday.
Aftermath of bridge explosion:
Ukraine: Aftermath of bridge explosionThree bridges on key roads leading into the Ukrainian city of Donetsk were blown up Monday. It marked an apparent attempt to slow down any possible assault by government forces on the separatist stronghold.
It was not exactly clear who blew up the highway and train bridges Monday, but their destruction would most benefit the separatists. Battles between Ukrainian forces and separatists have left over 400 people dead and thousands homeless since they began in early April. On Sunday, around 200 residents lined up in Sloviansk’s central square for meat, potatoes, onions and bread distributed by troops.
In the village of Novobakhmutivka, where a rail line crosses over a highway out of Donetsk, an 11-wagon cargo train was perched perilously Monday on the collapsed bridge. The road leads toward Sloviansk, a former stronghold that was recaptured Saturday by Ukrainian troops. Downing the bridge also damaged the rail line.
Anatoly Krasov, who was driving along the road Monday, said he saw an explosion before the bridge collapsed with a large cargo train on it. He said a group of men dressed in the camouflage uniforms often worn by the rebels then got into their cars and drove back towards Donetsk. Two other bridges on roads leading from Sloviansk to Donetsk were also destroyed Monday in the villages of Zakitne and Seleznevka, the Road Transportation Agency of Donetsk Region said.
The pro-independent militia control the regional administration building in Donetsk and checkpoints on the city’s outskirts. They also face little internal resistance from police forces or government officials in the city, who have done nothing in recent months to hinder their free movement around Donetsk.
But it is unclear whether they will be able to put up major resistance in the face of a Ukrainian military attack. Ukrainian forces demonstrated their superior firepower in repelling an eastern opposition attempt to take control of Donetsk Airport in May, a battle that killed dozens of separatists. Many residents have fled the city and the streets are often deserted save for the separatists.
Still, experts say that capturing Donetsk would be much more difficult than retaking Sloviansk, a city ten times smaller, and it could require the type of street-to-street urban warfare that would favor the separatists, not government troops.
There was no word Monday from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who had promised to start negotiations on a new cease-fire last week. A contact group for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) met in Kiev on Sunday to discuss the situation in Donetsk, but no representatives from the separatists attended and no breakthroughs were announced.
On a trip to Bulgaria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pressed again for a new cease-fire in Ukraine. He also condemned the OSCE for its “unrealistic demand” that the talks take place in Kiev, the capital, rather than in Donetsk.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting the eastern opposition by sending troops and weapons, including tanks and rocket launchers, something Moscow denies. Putin has so far resisted demands at home and by the rebels to come to their aid, wary of having more Western sanctions slapped on Russia.
On Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry made its first statement about Sloviansk since the city fell. It tiptoed around the separatists’ defeat, only mentioning Sloviansk as part of a long list of civilian casualties.
Russia also urged the European Union (EU) to put new pressure on Ukraine, which it accused of waging a “massive military operation which has resulted in the deaths of peaceful people.”
Report compiled with information from Reuters and The Associated Press.