Ukraine’s Russian-backed separatists appear to have turned their backs on peace talks in the wake of recapturing a key airport in the country’s east from government forces.
Reuters says there are signs of an impending rebel offensive against the few areas in the region still under government control and that “One separatist leader said his pro-Russian rebels have launched a multi-pronged offensive and won’t join further peace talks – but left unclear whether they would respect this week’s agreement to pull back heavy weapons from the front line.”
The news agency quotes separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko as saying the rebels will fight for more territory and are advancing in several directions to push Ukrainian forces back to the edge of the Donetsk region.
As recently as Sunday, Ukrainian government forces claimed to be on their way to regaining full control of the shattered airport.
NPR’s Corey Flintoff reports that Kiev contends that “the separatists have advanced far beyond the lines that were drawn in the September cease-fire agreement. [And separatist leaders] say they intend to capture all the land in two key eastern provinces.”
On Thursday, rebels captured the Donetsk Airport, which despite being destroyed amid months of tit-for-tat shelling has remained a focal point of the fight in the area.
“By Thursday, it was clear [that] the Ukrainian Army was in a chaotic and bloody retreat, leaving behind their dead in the ruins of the main terminal, a Russian news video showed. Later in the day, in an official statement, Ukrainian military officials acknowledged that they had lost the battle.
“In Donetsk, rebels forced a dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers to kneel on the streets near where artillery fire had gutted a trolley bus, killing at least eight people, encouraging passers-by to beat and spit on them.”
According to the BBC, 13 people were killed in the shelling of a bus in the rebel-held city.
“[R]ebels paraded captured Ukrainian soldiers at the scene of the bus shelling, as onlookers shouted abuse and pelted them with debris from the blast site.”