With NATO's top military commander, General Breedlove, proclaiming that fighting in Ukraine is worse than pre-truce levels (and noting he could not confirm Poroshenko's Russian force numbers accusations), the news overnight, as The Telegraph reports, that Ukrainian forces appeared to withdraw from Donetsk airport last night, ending an 8-month battle in a bitter blow for pro-Kiev forces and apparent triumph for the Russian-backed separatists they are fighting. While the Pro-Russian separatists' Pyrrhic victory over the completely destroyed (as we noted here) airport may be a blow, a Ukrainian military spokesman on Thursday played down the surrender of the terminal buildings, saying it was simply a tactical withdrawal. Additionally, Russia has denounced an attack on a bus in separatist-held Donetsk which killed civilians as a "monstrous crime."
Ukrainian forces appeared to withdraw from Donetsk airport last night, bringing to an end an eight-month battle in what will be seen as a bitter blow for pro-Kiev forces and a triumph for the Russian-backed separatists they are fighting.
The Ukrainian ministry of defence had insisted earlier this week that part of the airport complex was still under government control and that fighting continued.
But Yuri Butusov, a Ukrainian journalist, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday night that the airport had been abandoned because “the new and old terminals, the control tower, everything that could serve as a defensive point has been completely destroyed.”
The claim was later confirmed in a post by the Azov regiment, one of several volunteer battalions fighting alongside regular government forces.
A Ukrainian military spokesman on Thursday played down the surrender of the terminal buildings, saying it was simply a tactical withdrawal.
"Yesterday the decision was taken to leave the territory of the terminal for new positions," Vladislav Seleznyov said. "Fierce fighting continues.”
"We continue to control the southern part of the airport ... we left the new terminal because it looks like a sieve and there's simply nowhere to hide there," he said.
Reports of the fall of Donetsk airport sparked mourning on Ukrainian social media, with many users posting tributes to the fallen defenders and angry denunciations of the failure of generals and politicians to avoid the defeat.
LifeNews, a fiercely pro-Kremlin outlet, showed footage on Thursday of what it said were dead Ukrainian soldiers found in the basement.
Rebel fighters told the station that they found about 15 badly wounded Ukrainians amongst the dead, and that the troops had apparently been abandoned by their officers.
The battle for Donetsk airport, where a garrison of Ukrainian troops held off separatist attackers for eight months, had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
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What they were fighting for...
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This surrender follows what Russia called a "monstrous crime" as a bus in Donetsk was blown up killing civilians...
It was unclear whether the attack on a bus in a separatist held part of the city on Thursday morning was connected with the fighting at the airport.
Separatists who control the city initially blamed the attack on a guerrilla unit operating inside the city, rather than Ukrainian artillery firing from beyond the city limits.
Sergie Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, blamed the attack on Ukrainian shelling, denouncing the attack as a "monstorus crime".
"We are shaken by the monstrous new crime in Donetsk, where on the morning of January 22 dozens of peaceful civilians died and received injuries as a result of Ukrainian forces shelling a bus stop," he said.
The attack was a "crude provocation" aimed at undermining peace efforts, he added.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia bore responsiblity for the shelling that Kiev blamed on pro-Kremlin rebels.
"Russian terrorists again committed a horrible act against humanity," Mr Yatsenyuk said in statement published on the government's website. "And responsiblity for this is borne by the Russian Federation."
A Reuters correspondent counted six bodies at the scene of the strike, although rebel and municipal authorities suggested the total death toll could be higher.
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NATO is clearly growing more concerned...
- *BREEDLOVE: FIGHTING IN UKRAINE IS AT PRE-TRUCE LEVELS
- *BREEDLOVE: SOME FIGHTING IN UKRAINE WORSE THAN PRE-TRUCE COMBAT
- *BREEDLOVE SAYS RUSSIA-BACKED FORCES HAVE `RENEWED CAPABILITY'
- *BREEDLOVE SAYS HE'LL RENEW CONTACTS WITH TOP RUSSIAN MILITARY
- *BREEDLOVE SAYS CAN'T CONFIRM POROSHENKO'S RUSSIA TROOP FIGURES
- *STOLTENBERG: NATO WILL INCREASE PRESENSE IN EAST OF ALLIANCE
- *STOLTENBERG: NATO TO HAVE PERMANENT PRESENSE IN BULGARIA
- *STOLTENBERG: NATO TO HAVE COMMAND UNITS IN POLAND, ROMANIA
- *STOLTENBERG: NATO MEASURES `DEFENSIVE', `PROPORTIONAL'
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