Indiscriminate Rockets kill 30 in Ukrainian city as rebels launch offensive

January 25, 2015 5:23 am
Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, schools, homes and
shops Saturday in ’s southeastern city of Mariupol, killing at
least 30 people, authorities said. The Ukrainian president called the
blitz a terrorist attack and NATO and the US demanded that stop
supporting the rebels.

President Petro Poroshenko. Photo / Getty Images Ukrainian officials rushed to defend the
strategically important port on the Sea of Azov, beefing up military
positions with more equipment and sending in more forces.
separatists’ top leader declared that an offensive against Mariupol had
begun – then later toned down his threats as the scale of the civilian
casualties became clear.
President Petro Poroshenko held an
emergency meeting of his military officials and cut short a trip to
Saudi Arabia to coordinate the government’s response.

“The time has come to name their sponsors. The help given to
militants, weapons deliveries, equipment and the training of manpower –
is this not aiding terrorism?” Poroshenko said in a recorded statement.
insists it does not support the rebels, but Western military officials
say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that
An AP reporter saw convoys of pristine heavy weapons in rebel territory earlier this week.
rocket attacks came a day after the rebels rejected a peace deal and
announced they were going on a multi-prong offensive against the
government in Kiev to vastly increase their territory. The rebel stance
has upended European attempts to mediate an end to the fighting in
eastern Ukraine, which the UN says has killed nearly 5,100 people since
Mariupol, a major city under government control, lies
between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Heavy
fighting in the region in the fall raised fears that Russian-backed
separatist forces would try to capture city to establish a land link
between Russia and Crimea.
Ukraine’s defence Ministry said three
separate strikes from Grad multiple-rocket launchers hit Mariupol and
its surrounding areas Saturday.
“The area that came under attack
was massive,” Mariupol mayor Yuriy Khotlubei said. “The shelling was
carried out by militants. This is very clearly Russian aggression that
has caused terrible losses for the residents of the eastern part of our
The Donetsk regional government loyal to Kiev said at
least 30 people – including a 15-year old girl and a five-year old boy –
died in the attacks. A Ukrainian military checkpoint near the city was
also hit and one serviceman was killed, the defence Ministry said.
RIA Novosti agency cited Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander
Zakharchenko as saying an offensive had begun on Mariupol. He spoke as
he laid a wreath Saturday where at least eight civilians died when a bus
stop was shelled Thursday in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in
eastern Ukraine.
Zakharchenko swiftly backtracked, however. He
denied that his forces were responsible for Saturday’s carnage, saying
it was caused by Ukrainian error. He also said the Ukrainian defences
positions around Mariupol would be destroyed but the city itself would
not be stormed.
But the Organization for Security and
Cooperation’s monitoring mission said the attack on Mariupol was caused
by Grad and Uragan rockets fired from areas under rebel control.
forces have positions 10 kilometers (six miles) from Mariupol’s eastern
outskirts. On Jan. 13, a bus near an army checkpoint north of Mariupol
was hit by a shell, killing 13 people, an attack Ukraine also blamed on
the separatists.
Yulia, a Mariupol citizen who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, told The Associated Press
by telephone Saturday that her stricken neighborhood was cut off from
power and heating in the middle of winter. Many residents had boarded up
their windows, fearing shattered glass from further attacks, she said.
were being drafted into the city and the Mariupol-based Azov Battalion
was being equipped with more heavy weapons, Interior Minister Arsen
Avakov said in a posting on Facebook. Security services also detained a
spotter suspected of giving rebel fighters coordinates to launch
rockets, he said.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had ordered
regional leaders Friday to draw up economic blueprints to put the
financially struggling country on a war footing. Ukraine began its
fourth wave of mobilization this week, building up manpower for its
faltering war effort.
Fighting has also been intensifying for the
government-held town of Debaltseve, 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of
Donetsk. The main roads into the town are under separatist control and
rebels have vowed to surround the Ukrainian forces stationed there.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the rebels’ new offensive “has been
aided and abetted by Russia’s irresponsible and dangerous decision to
resupply them in recent weeks with hundreds of new pieces of advanced
“I join my European counterparts in condemning in the
strongest terms today’s horrific assault by Russia-backed separatists on
civilian neighborhoods in Mariupol,” Kerry said in a statement, citing
reports of dozens wounded as well.
He urged Russia to end its
support for separatists, close its international border with Ukraine and
withdraw all weapons, fighters and financial backing or face increased
US and international pressure.
Sanctions against Russia by the
European Union and the US for its actions in Ukraine have already hit
the Russian economy hard. EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini
echoed Kerry’s demands.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
also condemned the Mariupol shelling and what he said was the increased
presence of Russian forces in Ukraine.
“Russian troops in eastern
Ukraine are supporting these offensive operations with
command-and-control systems, air defence systems with advanced
surface-to-air missiles, unmanned aerial systems, advanced multiple
rocket launcher systems, and electronic warfare systems,” he said.
peace deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk
envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division
line in eastern Ukraine, but that was repeatedly violated by both sides.
Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany agreed
Wednesday to revive that division line but the rebels on Friday rejected
the whole Minsk deal.
Senior envoys from Ukraine, Russia and the
OSCE issued a statement Saturday convening an urgent meeting next week
to restart the Minsk peace process.

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