Toll mounts in eastern Ukraine as soldiers, civilians die

Donetsk: The dead continue to pile up here - hours after locals had buried one of their own, who they say was gunned down by pro-Kiev forces during Sunday’s secession referendum, six Ukrainian servicemen were killed in a separatist ambush.

A statement by the Defence Ministry in Kiev said that the six had died and eight others had been injured when their armoured personnel carrier was hit by rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire on the outskirts Kramatorsk, part of the Donetsk region which voted overwhelmingly to begin the process of breaking with Kiev.

The attack, about 100 kilometres north of Donetsk, gave lethal force to declarations by local rebel leaders that national security forces would be treated as "occupiers" - and can be expected to draw reprisal attacks from Kiev's forces and the volunteers fighting alongside them in this eastern swathe of the country.

In the nearby town of Slaviansk, which is under rebel control, a separatist commander told reporters that one of his men had died and two others had been injured in the ambush which, he insisted, had killed as many as 30 of the national forces.

At Krasnoarmeysk, 65 kilometres north-west of here, townspeople were bitter about what they said was a decision by their mayor to call for pro-Kiev forces to descend on the mining town of about 100,000 people midway through Sunday’s vote.

Pensioner Sergi Degtyarov told Fairfax Media that the forces, wearing an assortment of uniforms, first had tried to confiscate the ballot papers and then had taken up positions in the town's administrative centre, from where they fired two volleys - but additional gunfire apparently had come from a sniper on the roof of an adjacent building.

Two people were killed - 39-year-old miner and father of two Vadim Hudich, and Yuri Mikolenko, who lived nearby.

Tuesday's rebel attack brings the death toll in the region to more than 50 since Kiev began what it describes as an "anti-terrorism operation" in the area and it is the national army's greatest loss in a single incident.

Dismissing calls for a negotiated settlement to the crisis, the rebel leader Denis Pushilin said on Tuesday that the only agenda item in any dialogue with Kiev would be a hostage exchange.

But insisting that the presidential election scheduled for May 25 would take place locally, the Kiev-appointed governor of Donetsk, businessman Serhiy Taruta dismissed the separatists' claims, telling reporters: "The Donetsk People's Republic does not exist".

Claiming that the area was under Kiev’s control, the governor said his efforts to negotiate with the rebels were frustrated by the different representatives attending each meeting, making it impossible to get a sense of who made the decisions in the rebel movement.

The story Toll mounts in eastern Ukraine as soldiers, civilians die first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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