Ukraine Begins Army Offensive To Regain Slavyansk; Separatists Fight Back, Shoot Down Helicopters

After a few days of extended verbal foreplay, it was only a matter of time before Ukraine finally snapped and resumed a military operation to regain the lost cities in the east, especially once the warmongering IMF made it explicitly clear that should Ukraine lose control of pro-Russian controlled cities the $17 billion bailout package would be lost too. Sure enough, early this morning Kiev launched a military operation to regain control of the pro-Russian separatist stronghold of Slovyansk, overrunning numerous roadblocks and surrounding the city, officials said, but meeting stiff resistance from militants who managed to shoot down at least one helicopter.

Ukraine chopper taken down:

Pro-Russian soldier with a grenade launcher manning a checkpoint

Ukrainian soldiers stand guard at a Ukrainian checkpoint near the eastern town of Slaviansk May 2, 2014.
Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

 A pro-Russian separatist stands guard on top of an armoured personnel carrier in the town of Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine May 2, 2014.
Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Ukrainian soldiers stand guard at a Ukrainian checkpoint near the eastern town of Slaviansk May 2, 2014.
Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A Ukrainian military helicopter flies near a Ukrainian checkpoint near the town of Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine May 2, 2014.
Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

According to WSJ reporters, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said militant fighters fought back against the advancing Ukrainian units with heavy weaponry, including grenade launchers and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. There was no immediate sign that Ukraine's forces were moving further into the city.

Separatist leaders claimed to have shot down four Ukrainian helicopters in the clash, Russian state media reported, but Ukraine's defense ministry said two helicopters had been shot down and that two soldiers were killed and several more wounded. Ukraine's state security service confirmed only one Mi-24 chopper was taken down, with one pilot killed and the other taken captive. A spokeswoman for the separatists said one person was killed and another wounded on their side.

Video clip of Ukraine army helicopters shot down in Slavyansk

Reuters adds that a third helicopter, an Mi-8 transport aircraft, was also hit and a serviceman wounded, the Defence Ministry said. The SBU security service said this helicopter was carrying medics.

Yet even this appears merely a preview of the event to come, which on request of western powers, may wait until after the market is closed on Friday afternoon.

Eight hours after Reuters journalists in Slaviansk heard shooting break out and saw one helicopter opening fire, the city of 130,000 was quiet, with shops shut and armed separatists in control of the streets while Ukrainian forces in armored vehicles had taken up positions on the outskirts of town.


Ukrainian officials said troops overran rebel checkpoints around the city in an operation launched before dawn and it was now "tightly encircled". They pointed to the heavy fire that hit the helicopters as proof of the presence of Russian forces, despite repeated denials from Moscow that it has troops on the ground or is controlling the uprising.

And then the Russian warnings started:

Putin's spokesman heaped blame on the Ukrainian government, which took power two months ago after pro-Western protests forced the Kremlin-backed elected president to flee to Russia. Noting that Putin had warned before that any "punitive operation" would be a "criminal act", Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that this was what had now happened at Slaviansk, where separatists seeking independence or annexation by Moscow are holding seven foreign European military observers.


Saying Putin had sent an envoy, Vladimir Lukin, to southeast Ukraine to negotiate their release, Peskov said that Lukin had not been heard from since the Ukrainian operation began.


"While Russia is making efforts to de-escalate and settle the conflict, the Kiev regime has turned to firing on civilian towns with military aircraft and has begun a punitive operation, effectively destroying the last hope of survival for the Geneva accord," he said, referring to a deal on April 17 signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

Reuters is also reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Friday that Kiev would be held responsible "first of all by its people" for its decision to launch a "punitive operation" in south-east Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking on Rossiya 24 television, called on Europe and the United States to give their assessment of the situation in the area, where "aviation is being used against the population" and urged Kiev to think again about its actions, according to the report.

About as clear a warning as one can get that Russia is about to cross the border in a "peacekeeping" mission and get involved as well: hardly the de-escalation the priced to global pax Americana, and climatic perfection rigged and manipulated markets desire.

For now, however, the eye of the military hurricane may be passing over Slavyansk:

Reuters journalists in the city heard shooting from shortly after 4 a.m. (9 p.m. EDT Thursday) and saw a military helicopter open fire. Towards midday, the city was quiet, shops were shut but rebel gunmen appeared to be still in tight control of the streets. Ukrainian troops were at a halt in the suburbs.


The SBU said the deadly use by the separatists of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles was evidence that "trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists" were operating in the area "and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores".


Armed groups seeking union with Russia have seized a number of government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine. The action in Slaviansk appeared to mark the heaviest military response by Kiev since it tightened a cordon around the city a week ago.


"They wanted to carry out some small-scale tactical operations just to scare the people," said a militant manning a checkpoint leading to the army-held airfield. "But so far things have not worked out the way they wanted."

The irony of course is that East Ukraine is for all intents and purposes lost to Kiev, and with the IMF ultimatum hanging over the acting government's head, a civil was is now all but inevitable, a war which will most certainly end up involving both Russia and NATO eventually:

"Shells came into my garden," said one local man, Gennady. "They say that they have come to defend us. But who from?" he said of the Ukrainian forces. "Civilians must stop them."  On the town's southern outskirts, eight Ukrainian armored personnel carriers cut off the road but faced a cordon two deep of local residents shouting at them to go home.

So while we await the final escalation, here is some media coverage of what really happened.

Amateur footage from a resident in Slavansk shows a plume of smoke rising from the city on Friday morning.

Pictures have emerged in social media of a wounded helicopter pilot being helped into an ambulance by self-defense forces.

Ukrainian armored vehicles presses people in Yasnogorka

Helicopters above Slavyansk: