Donetsk militia 'not going to storm Mariupol', trades accusations with Kiev
“Until now, we weren’t conducting any operations outside Mariupol. We’re saving strength,” Zakharchenko was cited by RIA-Novosti news agency as saying.
“But now, after Kiev decided to shift the blame on us for its erroneous fire from Grad multiple rocket launchers at residential areas [in Mariupol], I gave an order to suppress the positions of the Ukrainian military, stationed east of Mariupol,” he added.
Zakharchenko added that the forces of the People’s Republic of Donetsk (DPR) have no plans of storming the city itself.
The DPR leader said that “in the last few days the Ukrainian side had relocated a large grouping of its troops to Mariupol.”
“Day and night, our positions in the town of Novoazovsk are subjected to massive bombardment from Grad multiple rocket launchers and heavy artillery. Today, the armored vehicles from the 28th Ukrainian brigade have arrived in the area as well,” he stressed.
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According to Zakharchenko, Kiev is doing everything to make the rebels “move the forces, which are now involved in the battle for the Donetsk airport, to Mariupol, to weaken us and dislodge us from there [the airport].”
The Ukrainian military is using the citizens of Mariupol as “human shields,” the People’s Republic of Donetsk leader said.
Earlier, a DPR military official, Eduard Basurin, said that the Kiev forces have renewed their attempts to retake the strategically significant Donetsk airport on Saturday.
“The Ukrainian military is trying to attack from the north, west and east. Hostilities are underway at the airport,” Basurin said, as cited by Interfax news agency.
According to the rebels, they established full control over the Donetsk airport on January 16, following an exhausting standoff with Kiev troops, which has been ongoing since May last year.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has dispatched its Mariupol observer mission to the city’s Olimpiiska Street, which was hit by artillery fire, in order to conduct a fact-finding mission on the ground.
The monitors said that the crater analysis led them to the conclusion that Grad and Uragan rockets were used in the bombardment.
“According to the impact analysis, the Grad rockets originated from a north-easterly direction, in the area of Oktyabr (19 km north-east of Olimpiiska Street), and the Uragan rockets from an easterly direction, in the area of Zaichenko (15 km east of Olimpiiska Street), both controlled by the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”),” the Special Monitoring Mission report said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, has aborted his visit to Saudi Arabia for the funeral of King Abdullah, and has flown back to Kiev.
On his arrival, Poroshenko will “host an urgent meeting of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council,” which was ordered “to develop and implement more effective steps in view of the rapid deterioration of the situation in the east of the country,” the presidential press-service said.
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Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, has requested that an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council be held over the situation in Mariupol.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement, expressing hope that the shelling will be comprehensively and objectively investigated and that the perpetrators will receive the punishment they deserve.
The EU has urged Moscow to persuade the leaders of the eastern Ukrainian militias to stop the hostilities, saying that the continued warfare in south-eastern Ukraine “would inevitably lead to a further grave deterioration of relations between the EU and Russia,” according to a statement made by Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The EU and the US keep blaming Russia for supporting the militias in Donbas. The claims have not been backed by any significant proof and have been repeatedly denied by Russian officials.
Approximately 30 people, including two children, were killed when the city of Mariupol, which has remained relatively insulated from violence during the majority of the Ukrainian conflict, was shelled on Saturday.
Kiev was quick to place the blame with the militia, saying that the bombardment was part of their advancement on the port.
The militia representatives denied the accusations and called the shelling “yet another provocation” by the Ukrainian forces.
According to the DPR’s speaker of parliament, Denis Pushilin, the rebels simply don’t have the necessary long-range artillery equipment to hit the center of the city from their positions.
The Ukrainian conflict began last April when Kiev launched a military operation in the southeastern the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, after they refused to recognize the country’s new, coup-imposed authorities.
The death toll in the Ukraine conflict has exceeded 5,000 people. Over 10,000 have been injured, according to UN estimations.
According to Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, 30 people were killed and another 102 injured when the city of Mariupol, which has remained relatively insulated from violence during the majority of the Ukrainian conflict, was shelled on Saturday.