A day after the acting government in Kiev announced the Geneva agreement is void and that it would once again send special forces to deal with "terrorists" in east Ukraine, it had made good on its promise and over the past few hours, Ukrainian tanks, APCs and other special forces troops took control of a checkpoint north of Slavyansk on Thursday, following what numerous reports confirm was an exchange of gunfire.
What happened next is not exactly clear. Reuters reports that "when the armoured unit approached along a road from Sviatogorsk, which Ukraine's government said it recaptured on Wednesday, militants set up a smokescreen of burning tyres. Within half an hour, the Ukrainian force was in control of the position near the village of Khrestyshche. No shots were heard."
Ukrainian forces appear to be closing in around Slaviansk, a city of 130,000 which has become a military stronghold for the pro-Russian movement and is entirely controlled by separatist fighters.
Reuters journalists saw Ukrainian troops digging in outside the city on the main road south to the regional capital Donetsk.
Earlier in the morning, a spokeswoman for the separatist authorities in Slaviansk, Stella Khorosheva, said on Facebook that two people were killed at a checkpoint overnight.
Local online news site slavgorod.com.ua quoted other separatist representatives saying one man was dead and another seriously wounded after a group of local militia fighters from a checkpoint went to engage a group of "armed men" between Slaviansk and Sviatogorsk and were then fired on from a wood.
The Ukrainian government said troops repelled an overnight raid on a base at Artemivsk, to the south of Slaviansk on the road to Donetsk. A soldier was wounded in the attack by about 70 people who Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook were led by Russian soldiers.
This conflicts somewhat with reports from both AFP and RT of a far more serious escalation including shooting at the Slavyansk checkpoint, and that according to @GazetaRu at least six people have been killed so far. Just out from RT:
Fighting has erupted just outside Slavyansk, a town in east Ukraine where population voiced their protest against Kiev authorities. Ukrainian troops on tanks and armored vehicles are trying to break into the town.
According to Ukrainian Interior ministry, at least five self-defense guards have been killed and one policeman injured after the ‘antiterrorist operation’ launched by Kiev in the city. Three checkpoints erected by the anti-government protesters have also been destroyed.
“Around 40 minutes ago fighting started on the outskirts of Slavyansk,” one of the leaders of self-defense forces, Miroslav Rudenko , told Interfax. We are checking reports of one dead and one injured. There are shootings at a number of checkpoints at some of Slavyansk exit-roads.”
Rudenko said it was impossible to reach self-defense leaders in Slavyansk by phone, suspecting that mobile phone connection could have been switched off.
More from RT:
Police has announced the beginning of the crackdown via loudspeakers and a special vehicle is currently patrolling the streets warning local people about the crackdown.
The local citizens in the city are preparing for the Kiev crackdown. The majority of shops, kindergartens and schools have been closed in the city. Only the shops selling bread and water remain open. Rossiya 24 TV channel reported there was a slow offensive by Ukrainian troops on Slavyansk.
“Now armored vehicles and special forces are just 10km away from the town,” said Rossiya 24 correspondent currently on the ground.
According to locals, at least eight armored infantry vehicles passed the village of Hrestische, near Slavyansk, on Thursday morning, reports Gazeta.ru.
At least three snipers from Ukrainian army are now at the barricades, the residents also told Gazeta.ru, adding that when one of the journalists tried to approach the barricades, the snipers opened fire.
Meanwhile, two columns of armored vehicles are heading towards Slavyansk. The first column is now 6km from the city, while the second is 3 to 4km, Mayor of Slavyansk Vyacheslav Ponomarev told Rossiya 24 TV channel.
According to the latest reports, self-defense forces have repelled the attack of the Kiev gunmen at the key checkpoint in north of Slavyansk. At least three infantry vehicles had to retreat, reports Rossiya 24.
Meanwhile, the armored infantry vehicles are currently heading towards the town of Izyum in the Kharkov Region, not far from Slavyansk.
Anti-government protesters are still controlling the checkpoints on the outskirts of Slavyansk.
A video of the events:
And here is the latest reports on the ground:
Seems the Ukrainian anti-terror operation in Slavyansk is under way. Fights reported on outskirts of the town— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 24, 2014
Locals report at least six dead, but no confirmation @GazetaRu writes. Fights occur at two road blocks around Slavyansk— Olaf Koens (@obk) April 24, 2014
????????? ???????? pic.twitter.com/xXXoEN92Gf— ?????????? (@anti_maydan) April 24, 2014
But perhaps most concerning is the so far unconfrimed report that Russian support is on its way:
We will update if the situation escalates furtger