Civilians and military deaths have been reported as the Ukrainian military seeks to retake the pro-Russian city of Slovyansk. Russia has warned that events in Ukraine could have consequences for peace in Europe.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry on Monday said pro-Russian militants were using civilians as human shields as its troops tried to make advances on Slovyansk. It said there were civilian casualties, although there were no figures given initially.
The ministry said four of its soldiers had been killed in the fighting and that 30 had been badly injured. It said gunmen were shooting from houses, some of which were on fire.
"They are waging a war on us, on our own territory ... my mission is to eliminate the terrorists," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters.
The head of Ukraine's national guard, Stepan Poltorak, described the pro-Russian militants as being "bottled up" in the center of town, but added: "Our adversaries are well-trained and well-equipped."
Pro-Russian forces said as many as 20 of their members had been killed in the latest round of fighting. One rebel told the Interfax news agency that they had stopped the military advance further into the city after "great trouble."
Gunship shot down
Militants downed a Ukrainian helicopter gunship near the town, although the pilots were reported to have survived.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the aircraft, a Mi-24, had come under heavy machine gun fire on Monday, before crashing into a river. The crew were said to have been evacuated to a nearby camp. The helicopter is at least the third to have been shot down during pro-Russian uprisings in the east of the country.
Kyiv also moved to restore its grip on the Black Sea port of Odessa, the scene of rioting and demonstrations, sending in an elite national guard unit. It said that 42 people arrested during rioting on Friday, which led to multiple deaths when a building was torched, would be sent to another region of Ukraine for questioning. Local police, some of whose loyalty to the Kyiv government has come under question, released 67 people who had been detained over the weekend.
Moscow alleges mass abuses
As the fighting took place on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a report in which it denied allegations that Moscow has played an underhand role in steering the violence. It warned that the unrest in Ukraine was now "fraught with such destructive consequences for Europe's peace, stability and democratic development."
The report also accused Ukrainian "ultra-nationalists" of rights violations on a "mass" scale.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday was reported to have offered his mediation to help end the crisis. The AFP news agency quoted Ban calling upon the parties involved "to solve this problem through peaceful means, and I'm ready to provide my own role if necessary."
rc/se (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
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