Militants defy Ukrainian site occupation deadline
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — A deadline set by the Ukrainian government for pro-Russian militants in the country’s east to vacate occupied buildings passed Monday without signs of an effort to enforce it.
Commandos who engaged in gunfights with men who had set up roadblocks stormed a Ukrainian police station in the city of Slovyansk on Sunday, but there were no signs after the deadline passed at 9 a.m. Monday that they had tried to approach again.
At least one officer was killed in the fighting Sunday, Ukrainian officials said, and several officers and local residents were injured. The Russian news media and local residents disputed that account, however, saying that the Ukrainian forces had been engaged in a gunfight at the checkpoint only briefly.
The central government in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, has threatened to use force in a bid to restore its authority in the eastern part of the country, a course of action that the Russian government has repeatedly warned against and that it discouraged again Sunday.
With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s eastern border near Donetsk, Western leaders have worried that Moscow might use unrest in the country’s mainly Russian-speaking areas as a pretext for invasion — even though the violence was initiated by pro-Russian forces.
At an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday evening, the Russian ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, warned that the new government in Kiev intended to use military force against protesters in the east of the country. Ukraine has accused gunmen of terrorizing the population in the east.
The country’s interim president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, issued the ultimatum Sunday, saying that separatists should vacate occupied buildings by Monday morning or face a “large-scale anti-terrorist operation” that would involve the Ukrainian military. Ukraine backed away from a previous deadline of Friday after it offered, as a concession, to hold a referendum on regional autonomy and on guaranteeing the status of Russian as an official language.
Sergei A. Taruta, the governor of the Donetsk region, said Monday that a “special operations regime” had begun in the province, but offered no details of how the military or police were involved, Interfax, a Russian news agency, reported.
The city of Slovyansk was among several centers in the eastern region of Donetsk that were seized Saturday in coordinated raids that Ukrainian authorities denounced as Russian “aggression.”
Through Monday morning, the Ukrainian news media reported no efforts to storm occupied buildings in the eastern part of the country. No police officers or military personnel were gathered outside the regional administration building in Donetsk, which flies a Russian flag as well as the flag of the recently declared but as yet unrecognized People’s Republic of Donetsk.