Rebels targeted as Ukraine calls early election

A Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint on a road near Dnepropetrovsk. Picture: Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint on a road near Dnepropetrovsk. Picture: Getty Images
Share this article
Have your say

Ukraine’s president last night dissolved parliament and called for early elections in October, as his country continues to battle a pro-Russian insurgency.

President Petro Poroshenko said that the move was in line with the Ukrainian constitution, noting that the ruling coalition collapsed several weeks ago.

He said: “Many deputies who are in the Rada [parliament] are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists.”

The announcement came a day ahead of a summit that includes both Mr Poroshenko and Russian president Vladimir Putin and could be aimed at pressuring Ukraine into seeking a negotiated end to the conflict rather than a military victory.

Over the past month, Ukrainian forces have made substantial inroads against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, taking control of several sizeable towns and cities that had been under rebel control since April, when the clashes began.

But the advances have come at a high cost, with more than 2,000 civilians reportedly killed as well as at least 726 Ukrainian servicemen.

There is no independent figure for the number of rebel dead, although Ukrainian authorities said yesterday that 250 rebels had died in fighting around Olenivka, a town 15 miles south of Donetsk.

On Sunday, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said two-thirds of Olenivka had been wrested from Ukrainian control.

Earlier yesterday, a Ukrainian official said a column of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles had entered south-eastern Ukraine – a move that brings the conflict to an area that has so far escaped the intense fighting of recent weeks.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, said that the column of ten tanks, two armoured vehicles and two trucks had crossed the border near the village of Shcherbak and that shells were fired from Russia toward the nearby city of Novoazovsk.

Col Lysenko said they were Russian military vehicles bearing the flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels. Shcherbak is in the Donetsk region, but not under the control of the rebels.

The Ukrainian National Guard later said two of the tanks had been destroyed.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said he had no information about the column.

The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea.

Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.

Although Mariupol is in Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region, most of the fighting has been well to the north, including around the city of Donetsk, the rebels’ largest stronghold. A full offensive in the south could draw Ukrainian forces away from the fight for Donetsk.

Col Lysenko said Mariupol had enough defenders “to repel any attack of uninvited guests”.

Ukraine and the West claim Russia is supporting and supplying the rebels and, since mid-August, Russia has fired into Ukraine from across the border and from within Ukrainian territory. Moscow denies the allegations.

Ukrainian forces have made significant inroads against the separatists in recent weeks, but the rebels have vowed to retake lost territory.

Meanwhile, Mr Lavrov has announced plans to send a second aid convoy into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, where months of fighting have left many buildings in ruins and led to severe food shortages.