GORLOVKA, April 15 (RIA Novosti) - The Ukrainian army started on Tuesday a special operation in a crackdown on pro-federalism militia in eastern Ukraine, with reports emerging of first casualties among protesters.
The army operation has so far targeted the cities of Kramatorsk and Slaviansk in the Donetsk region, according to reports by protesters.
The city of Slaviansk is surrounded by troops supported by armored personnel carriers, the reports say.
"A lot of armed vehicles have been deployed around the city blocking all access, but no gunfire has been heard so far," a militia spokesman told RIA Novosti.
At least two protesters were wounded in an army attack on an airfield between Kramatorsk and Slaviansk, another representative of pro-federalism militia said.
"There are some 60 armored vehicles there [at the airfield]. They have been preparing for days and now the attack has started," the protester said.
"The protesters wouldn't let them enter [the airfield] and they [the soldiers] started shooting, there are wounded [among the militia]," he said.
"Our people had to retreat," he added.
First deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service Vasiliy Krutov warned Tuesday that protesters who do not obey Kiev's orders be destroyed, AFP news agency reported.
"They must be warned that if they do not lay down their arms, they will be destroyed," Krutov was quoted as saying.
Eastern Ukraine has been swept by rallies since March. Federalization supporters in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slaviansk and Kramatorsk refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and are urging interim authorities to hold referendums similar to the one that has been held in Crimea in March and led to its reunification with Russia.
In an effort to suppress the protesters Ukraine's parliamentary speaker and acting President Olexander Turchynov announced Monday the launch of a special anti-terrorist operation in the country's east, involving the use of armed forces.