Dozens Killed in Battle for Control of Donetsk Airport

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At least 40 pro-Russia rebels were reportedly killed by Ukrainian forces after trying to take over an airport in Donetsk, marking a deadly show of force by the country's newly-elected President Petro Poroshenko:

Separatists leaders put the death toll at around 50, reports Reuters. It seems Ukrainian forces are holding on to the airport for now, but that the battle for control was ruthless. Per Reuters

Ukraine used air strikes and a paratroop assault on Monday to clear rebels from Donetsk's international terminal and had pushed the separatists out of the complex by the end of the day. But shooting continued through the night and on Tuesday the road to the airport bore signs of fighting overnight and heavy machine gun fire could be heard in the distance in mid-morning.

Reuters journalists reported counting 20 bodies — some missing limbs — dressed in army fatigues in a local morgue. Now, it seems Ukrainian officials are trying to prevent others from witnessing the grisly outcome of the fighting: 

The swift reaction against the attempted airport takeover shows that Poroshenko, who was elected on Sunday, intends to make good on his vow to deal with "terrorists... within hours." Today, First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema added that, "we'll continue the anti-terrorist operation until not a single terrorist remains on the territory of Ukraine." 

The harsh words and actions prompted Russian officials to call on Poroshenko to pull back troops from the restive east. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the call, adding that Russia and Ukraine could be great friends if only Poroshenko would call off his troops: 

But Ukrainian officials contend that Russia is not an innocent bystander in the event. The foreign ministry said in a statement released today that "There are grounds to believe that Russian terrorists are being sent onto Ukrainian territory, organized and financed under the direct control of the Kremlin and Russian special forces." 

It's been just two day since Poroshenko, the confectionary magnate known as the "Chocolate King" in Ukraine, was elected president. If the past several hours are any indication, he could quickly become a unforgiving rival to the separatist movement. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.