|Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko at a news conference in Kiev. (Reuters)
Kiev, May 26 (Reuters): Ukraine launched air strikes and a paratrooper assault against pro-Russian rebels who seized an airport today, even as its newly elected leader vowed to reassert control in the east and refused to negotiate with “terrorists”.
Ukrainians rallied overwhelmingly in an election yesterday behind Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire owner of chocolate factories and political veteran, hoping the burly 48-year-old can rescue the nation from the brink of bankruptcy, civil war and dismemberment by their former Soviet masters in the Kremlin.
Today’s rapid military response to separatists who seized the airport in Donetsk appeared to be a defiant answer to Moscow, which said it was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko but demanded he scale back the armed forces’ campaign in the east.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard as a warplane flew over Sergei Prokofiev International Airport hours after truckloads of armed rebel fighters arrived and seized a terminal building. Thick black smoke rose from within the perimeter.
Spokesmen for the government’s operation in the east said warplanes and a helicopter had carried out the air strikes and paratroopers had been flown in.
The airport serves a city of one million people that the rebels have proclaimed capital of an independent “people’s republic”, and where they succeeded in blocking all voting in yesterday’s election.
Their attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Poroshenko from travelling there: he has said his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.
Even as the fighting was getting under way, Poroshenko was holding a news conference in Kiev promising to talk with those in the east who have grievances, but not to those who have taken up weapons.
“They want to preserve a bandit state which is held in place by force of arms,” he said. “These are simply bandits. Nobody in any civilised state will hold negotiations with terrorists.”