Ukraine struggled late Wednesday to regain control of key sections of its border with Russia, after pro-Russian separatists overran a military headquarters in an hours-long battle. A second border post in the eastern city of Luhansk also fell to rebels.
A Ukrainian border guard statement confirmed a retreat from its internal security base, but it said troops had partially redeployed and were “carrying out their tasks.” The National Guard said six militants were killed and three Ukrainian troops were wounded in the fighting.
Witnesses, including Western reporters, said Ukrainian forces abandoned the Luhansk base after running out of ammunition.
But also during the last 24 hours, a spokesman for Kyiv’s “anti-terrorist operation” claimed Ukrainian government forces killed more than 300 separatist fighters and wounded at least 500 amid heavy fighting in and around Slovyansk.
Government troops used aircraft, helicopters and artillery against rebels who have controlled the area since April, spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said.
Separatists disputed the casualty count.
“Losses to the Ukrainian side were greater than ours,” Aleksandr Boroday, “prime minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Seleznyov said two Ukrainian servicemen had been killed and 45 wounded. The numbers could not be independently confirmed.
Ukraine’s government says the unrest in the country’s east is being instigated and fomented by Russia in response to Kyiv’s turn toward the West.
Recently intensified operations against rebels were ordered by Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko who, with close to 55 percent of the vote, won a resounding victory in elections May 25.