Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists fought gunbattles in the eastern town of Donetsk for a second day on Tuesday, and one rebel said separatists may have lost up to 35 of their number killed in the government military offensive.
The death toll could not be independently confirmed, but Reuters journalists saw blood-spattered and bullet-riddled hulks of trucks normally used to carry fighters, indicating casualties.
Ukraine used air strikes and a paratroop assault on Monday to clear rebels from Donetsk’s international airport and had pushed the separatists out of the complex by the end of the day.
“The (separatist) fighters who had been in the terminal have been eliminated,” a spokesman for the government’s “anti-terrorist operation” said, indicating the airport was now under control of government forces.
But shooting continued through the night and by mid-morning machine gun fire could be heard on one of the main roads leading to the airport.
The separatists, supporting the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), conceded on Tuesday some of their number had been killed in the government offensive launched on Monday after Ukraine had elected a new president in a poll which the separatists disrupted in the east.
One rebel said on Tuesday he believed about 30 to 35 separatists had been killed so far in nearly 24 hours of fighting in Donetsk, an industrial hub.
The rebel, who was in his 30s and gave no name, spoke to Reuters as he and about a dozen comrades drove off from a morgue near the city centre.
It was the first indication of a death toll on either side in the spasm of violence in Donetsk. A Reuters correspondent said the city and the road to the airport bore signs of overnight fighting.
In the city itself, a four-storey hockey stadium had been set ablaze, though firefighters now had it under control.
A Kamaz truck of the type rebels use to ferry their fighters was wrecked on the airport road, covered in blood and completely riddled with bullet holes. Blood had spattered across the entire roadway and even reached a billboard seven metres above.
Outside the city centre, another Kamaz was flipped over, its deck covered in blood.
Ukraine launched the fresh offensive against the rebels, who have occupied strategic points in Donetsk, an industrial hub of one million, and other towns in the east, after Kiev’s newly elected leader rejected any talks with “terrorists”.
Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year-old billionaire oligarch, who won overwhelming support in Sunday’s election which many hope will draw a line under six months of upheaval, said a robust military campaign in the east should be able to put down a separatist revolt in “a matter of hours”.