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Ukrainian troops drive rebels out of Mariupol


By MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC and DAVID McHUGH
Associated Press

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian troops attacked pro-Russia separatists Friday in the southern port of Mariupol, apparently driving them out of buildings they had occupied in the city.

About 100 soldiers emerged triumphant from the previously rebel-occupied buildings, shouting the name of their battalion, Azov, and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They also destroyed an armored vehicle and a heavy truck used by the separatists, leaving the vehicles scorched and riddled with large-caliber bullet holes.

Mariupol is the second-largest city in the eastern Donetsk region, where armed separatists have declared independence from the government in Kiev. The Azov Sea port sits along the main road leading from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March from Ukraine.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said four government troops were wounded in what he called a successful operation. Witnesses said they saw troops capture at least four separatist fighters. There was no immediate word of casualties on the rebel side, and Associated Press journalists at the site were blocked from entering the buildings.

Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine and supporting the separatist fighters. Russia, however, has denied sending troops or weapons to Ukraine and has described the Russian citizens fighting with the separatists as volunteers.

The renewed fighting Friday came as rebel leaders confirmed they had obtained three tanks.

Government officials say the tanks were part of a column of armored vehicles that crossed the porous border into Ukraine from Russia, but there has been no independent confirmation that they came from Russia.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic, told Russian state television Friday that they had the tanks but it was "improper to ask" where they had gotten them.

"They are in Donetsk and are the minimum that we have to defend the city," he said.

Both the U.S. State Department and NATO have said if the tanks did come from Russia, it would be a "serious escalation" of the crisis.

"I am concerned about reports that pro-Russian armed gangs are acquiring heavy weapons from Russia, including Russian tanks," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement Friday. "We have seen reports that Russian tanks and other armored vehicles may have crossed the border into eastern Ukraine. If these reports are confirmed, this would mark a serious escalation of the crisis in eastern Ukraine."

Rasmussen urged Russia "to complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across the border, and to exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence."

Russia has not commented on the tanks, but its border guard service said two Ukrainian armored vehicles crossed the border in the opposite direction Friday, into Russian territory near the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. Russian news agencies quoted a spokesman for the border guard service as saying that the Ukrainian troops were able to return to Ukraine but left behind one of the vehicles after it apparently broke down.

Pushilin repeated the separatists' call for Russia to send peacekeeping troops into eastern Ukraine. Russia has said this could only be done with U.N. authorization.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who took office on June 7, rallied support for his plan to end the fighting in phone calls Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Poroshenko told Merkel he is willing to negotiate, but not with those he calls terrorists. He said he could offer amnesty only to people who don't have "blood on their hands."

According to his spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, Poroshenko told Putin it was "unacceptable" that tanks had crossed the border. A Kremlin statement said Poroshenko told Putin about his plan for resolving Ukraine's crisis.

---

McHugh reported from Kiev, Ukraine.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
llhuberarchitect June 13 2014 at 4:16 PM

About time, now drive the rest of the Russians out.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
chst586 June 13 2014 at 1:59 PM

Let's see now: The US sponsors a coup, and the people who don't like it decided to fight back. We can't have freedom fighters opposing American hegemony that would be .....well...Un-American.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
9 replies
vobox3343 June 13 2014 at 2:28 PM

Way to go!! Our president seems to know best. As is in the case with Iraq, lend support but ultimately allow these countries to fight their own battles. Thanks for being a great leader, Mr. President.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
6 replies
rgkarasiewicz June 13 2014 at 2:27 PM

Throw out the American puppet regime in Ukraine now!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
11 replies
Jim Peyton June 13 2014 at 3:05 PM

All I see is Russian military men dressed and acting as citizens of this country stirring up the people with threats and death. If they could weed out these Russian soldiers out the citizen population then this could go away sooner than later.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
vigoddess Jim Peyton June 13 2014 at 9:43 PM

Never thought the day would come when a Russian would hide behind a woolen mask
and hurt another Slavic as a cowardly fighter when they were once the bravest
guerilla fighters in the world.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Warrior June 13 2014 at 4:12 PM

What possible reason would Ukrainian Army forces have to cross into Russia with a few armored personnel carriers. Last month's rebel propaganda established that the rebels captured Ukrainian Army armored vehicles. The "Ukrainian" armored vehicles crossing into Russian territory were almost certainly ones being used by separatists loyal to Russia..."IF there even were any Ukrainian armored vehicles driving into Russia." The story is dubious at best; and, most likely propaganda, and/or part of Putin's multi-layered invasion plan used to rationalize justification to cross into the Ukraine with overwhelming combined arms Russian regular forces. As for the Russians supplying heavy arms to the separatists, that has also already been well established. Shoulder fired anti-aircraft and antitank missiles can't be obtained at the local Ukrainian version of Walmart...It looks like Russia is now even supplying tanks. Will helicopters and jets be next? Of course they will be operated by masked men.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
Bruce Brough Warrior June 13 2014 at 5:03 PM

Amen! Hitlerian Putin will use any trick in the book, and some that have not been created yet!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
joethightwad June 13 2014 at 4:40 PM

Don't take the bait too eagerly. The Ukrainian army has the same tanks as the Russians, having inherited them when Ukraine became independent. The tanks in question may have been taken from captured army bases in the eastern provinces. That they were reported to have crossed the border from Russia is, as yet, unconfirmed, and the claim that they did would bolster Ukraine's call for outside assistance.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
HAYLEY BUG June 13 2014 at 4:01 PM

Nothing to special about those Russian special forces!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
Oscar HAYLEY BUG June 14 2014 at 2:39 AM

The Ukranians should take over Sochi as a trade for Crimea.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
sandrakaywinter June 13 2014 at 4:57 PM

As I recall, Putin's last statement was that his troops take no aggressive action within Ukraine. However, it would seem that forcefully occupying buildings in the city of Mariupol would be counter to that statement. This is a physical victory for the Ukrainian forces. It is also a psychological victory for the people of Ukraine and a rallying point.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
gbyron60 June 13 2014 at 5:14 PM

We sponspred a coup when President Eisenhower moved against the elected government in Iran, and Iranian hatred for us stems from that time. However, our actions were not hidden. Here, the accusation is that we sponsored a coup in the Ukraine, although it seems apparent from all available evidence that the vast majority of the people there were against the economic policies then in force and that our input, if any, was probably minor. As here, if you prefer to live in another country, you are free to go. I'm sure the government would not be sad to see the rebels move across the line into Russia, since they prefer Putin.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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