MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) – Three anti-government protesters were killed, 13 injured and more than 60 detained following a violent clash overnight that erupted between federalization supporters and Ukrainian troops in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, authorities in Kiev said Thursday.
“According to preliminary information, there are three dead and 13 injured among the attackers, with 63 [activists] detained. Weapons have been seized,” Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced on his Facebook page.
No government troops were killed, he added.
Avakov said the soldiers at a National Guard compound in Mariupol on the Sea of Azov had opened fire on the protesters, who allegedly hurled Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs at the military unit.
Igor Khakimzyanov, chief of the so-called “people’s army” in the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, said the federalist activists had come to peacefully negotiate.
Avakov added that Ukrainian troops would continue their “anti-terror” operation, which aims to dislodge activists from occupied government buildings across the country’s southeastern regions in an effort to suppress the protests.
Kiev’s official version of the deadly confrontation revealed on Avakov’s Facebook page said that as many as 400 activists attempted to storm a Mariupol military unit on Wednesday night.
“All Mariupol police units were alerted," the interior minister wrote. "We decided to supplement the group of interior ministry troops with Omega special forces, and dispatched helicopters."
“The operation is still underway. A task force of the Interior Ministry is hunting down one of the armed groups. Police are patrolling the streets,” he added.
According to Khakimzyanov, Ukrainian soldiers were shooting to kill. He stressed the aim of the activists was to hold talks with the personnel who had holed up at a base in the largely pro-federalization region.
“The military opened fire for effect. Twelve were injured, one of them gravely,” he told RIA Novosti.
According to a city news portal, stray bullets damaged two apartments in a street nearby, smashing windows, doors and a gas-powered water heater, causing the residents to flee for fear of a gas explosion. Another bullet sent a family with a small child running for cover when it shattered a window in their home.
The shootout caused the city to shut down, disrupting traffic and cutting off power to buildings.
The city news page cited residents as saying on social media websites the military base was not stormed, calling the incident a provocation. One of the residents said he heard fighter jets flying over the city overnight.
Ukraine’s security service and police are conducting a joint operation in Mariupol and a helicopter has been dispatched to the area, the official said.
A group of protesters arrived at the military unit in Mariupol on Wednesday evening and called on troops to abandon the base. A violent clash broke out after the army refused to cooperate.
The Ukrainian army started a special operation Tuesday to crack down on self-defense activists in eastern Ukraine. According to unconfirmed reports, at least four protesters were killed Tuesday as Ukrainian troops stormed an airfield in Kramatorsk, local pro-federalization supporters said.
Eastern Ukraine has been swept by rallies since last month. Federalization supporters in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slaviansk and Kramatorsk have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and are urging interim authorities to hold referendums similar to the one held in Crimea last month, which led to the republic’s reunification with Russia.
Russia condemned the decision by the new Ukrainian authorities to use force against the federalization supporters, saying it was an extremely unpleasant turn of events.