Ukraine soldiers pull out of main part of Donetsk airport
UKRAINE’S military on Thursday said days of attacks by pro-Russian insurgents had forced its soldiers to pull out of the main part of a devastated airport that has become the symbolic prize of the nine-month war.
Defence officials in Kiev said fighting around the ruins of Donetsk international airport continued despite the deaths of six Ukrainian troops and the capture of 16 more by separatists overnight.
Ukraine said 10 soldiers had been killed overall and 16 wounded in the past 24 hours of fighting across the mostly Russian-speaking industrial east of Ukraine — one of the heaviest tolls since the signing of a largely ineffective September truce.
“Yesterday evening we made the decision to leave the new terminal,” military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said in reference to the main airport building that had been held by Kiev forces since late May.
The pullout was reported by Kiev just minutes after at least 13 civilians were killed when either a rocket or an artillery shell hit a trolleybus near the city centre of Donetsk.
The rebel capital has witnessed a sharp escalation of attacks in recent weeks that have undermined stuttering international efforts to stem bloodshed that has already claimed more than 4,800 lives.
The Sergei Prokofiev International Airport was rebuilt at a cost of nearly $1 billion to host football fans arriving for matches in the city during the Euro 2012 championship.
It was attacked by the rebels for the first time just days after the presidential election of Petro Poroshenko — a pro-Western tycoon who vowed to cement Ukraine’s ties with Europe and the United States.
Ukrainian media began referring to soldiers hanging onto the hub as the “cyborgs” because of their seeming ability to withstand nonstop assaults from heavily-armed separatists with limited logistical support from Kiev.
Poroshenko’s top security adviser said that Kiev was not yet ready to cede the airport to the rebels — despite Russia’s pressure diplomatic to do so — because it remained a neutral site under the September agreements.
“Donetsk airport has been and remains a part of the front line,” presidential adviser Yuriy Biryukov wrote on Facebook.
“We were unable to take the ruins of the new terminal under our control in the past six days,” he wrote.
“The breaking point came the day before yesterday.”