The crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate on Tuesday with the death of seven Ukrainian soldiers and one pro-Russian militant.
At 13:00 local time, Ukraine forces were ambushed by roughly 30 pro-Russian gunmen near the town of Kramatorsk, a regional significant city located in northern Donetsk.
The fighting broke out when an armored personnel carrier carrying Ukrainian paratroopers was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (some reports say it was a grenade launch), killing two and injuring three.
A firefight between the Ukraine soldiers and pro-Russians followed. The rebels attacked from bushes along a river and used automatic weapons and grenade launchers.
The firefight ended with several more deaths and injuries.
This is the largest number of deaths suffered by Ukrainian forces since Kiev began its “anti-terror” operations back in mid-April against pro-Russian militants in the eastern part of the country.
Ukraine forces continue to surround Slovyansk, the pro-Russian activists’ strong hold.
Also on Tuesday, self-declared governor Valery Bolotov was shot in an attempted assassination, the “Luhansk People’s Republic” press office said. He lost a significant amount of blood but will live, they added.
Meanwhile in Donetsk, while speaking at a news conference, Kiev elected governor of Donetsk, Sergei Taruta, called on the parliament to pass a legislation authorizing a vote to help regions to obtain more independent power while staying part of Ukraine.
He stated that the referendums held on Sunday in Donetsk and Luhansk by pro-Russian activist was nothing more than “an opinion poll” and that the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” did not exist legally or politically. He also added that Donetsk can not survive economically as an independent territory.
Referendums on greater autonomy from Ukraine were held in Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday by pro-Russian activist who control a large number of cities in eastern Ukraine.
The ballot papers asked: “Do you support the Act of State Self-rule of the Donetsk People’s Republic/Luhansk People’s Republic?”
There was a whopping 70% turnout, and according to pro-Russian officials in Donetsk, 2,252,867 voted yes, while a mere 256,040 voted no.
In Donetsk and Luhansk, 89% and 90% respectively voted “yes”.
It is very possible that a larger number of citizens in eastern Ukraine do not support an independent Donetsk/Luhansk, but the results from the vote won’t show it because numerous pro-Unity residents refused to cast a ballot in the referendum.
However, the legitimacy of the results are more likely than not, inaccurate. Reason being that none of the voting stations were independently monitored; meaning that the factual number of votes could have very well been manipulated.
Some journalist even reported seeing people vote more than once.
On Monday, after the votes were counted, pro-Russian authorities declared Donetsk and Luhansk to be independent countries.
Just two hours later, Donetsk People’s Republic Leader Denis Pushilin asked for Russia to annex the newly founded nation.
Later that night, he urged Moscow listen to the “will of the people” but stated that he was not asking for Russian military intervention. He did add that “peacekeepers” may be needed.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Kiev on Tuesday and urged talks between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian activists.
He fully supports the national round table that the government has planned to hold on Wednesday. The meeting will include politicians and civic leaders from eastern Ukraine.
It seems though, that talks between government officials and rebels will not happen.
On Tuesday, in an interview with interim President Arseniy Yatsenyuk by BBC, he said: “you can’t have the dialogue with the terrorist who are holding and possessing live ammunition and machine guns. We [the Ukrainian government] are willing to talk to the Ukrainian people, but not to terrorist.”
Mr. Pushilin has stated that there will not be dialogue between the Donetsk People’s Republic and Kiev.
“What about negotiations with Kiev? The only question that will be discussed with them is the question of hostage exchange. Nothing else,” he said on Monday. “As well as this, a middleman must participate. We see this middleman as the Russian Federation,” he added.
He also warned the Ukrainian troops in the Donetsk region, saying: “To those illegal military units in our territory, you are offered to either take the people’s side or leave our territorial region.”
In other developments
- The EU has announced new sanctions against those directly involved in the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
- Ukraine has cut off water supply to Crimea: http://euromaidanpr.com/2014/05/13/ukraine-stops-water-supply-to-crimea/
Where is Ukraine Heading?
Kiev and western nations have repeatedly claimed the referendums held by pro-Russian separatist to be illegal and illegitimate. This, however, did not stop the activist from continuing with the voting.
The same happened back in March when Russia annexed Crimea after it held a referendum and declared itself to be an independent nation.
In the interview with Mr. Yatsenyuk by BBC, he stressed that Ukraine does not accept the referendum held in Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Let me explain, there was no referendum at all,” he said. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk went on to say that the majority of Ukrainians actually want a “unified, territorial, integral, country.”
This claim would appear to be backed by a recent survey by Pew Research Center which stated that 77% of Ukrainians wanted the country to stay united.
However, the survey was conducted after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, but before the bloody violence in Odessa a couple of weeks ago that resulted in the death of 40 people.
Therefor, it is possible that the recent violence in eastern Ukraine has caused some peoples’ opinion to flip-flop.
On May 11, during the referendum in Donetsk Vice journalist Henry Langston interviewed a man named Yuri who said that he had “never seen so many people at the voting station.”
The crisis in Ukraine started back in February when former President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office following violent protest in Kiev which resulted in roughly 100 deaths.
Soon afterwards, Crimea held its own referendum on separating from Ukraine, which received a distinct “yes”. Russia then annexed Crimea.
And now Kiev fears the same will happen in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Mr. Yatsenyuk stated that “What’s happening today in Ukraine is not only a threat for Ukraine, this is a threat for the entire Europe. Because, Russia undermined the international law, the security, and tries to build up a new Berlin Wall.
“It seems the ultimate goal of [the] Russian President [Vladimir Putin] and [the] Russian Regime is to make Ukraine a failed state,” he added. “And I want to be very clear, Russia will fail in making Ukraine a failed state.”