DONETSK, August 23 (RIA Novosti) – Ukrainian militia in the restive Donetsk region told RIA Novosti Saturday they were now fighting their way to the Sea of Azov in the country’s south.
A source in the militia headquarters told our correspondent that self-defense forces had been pounding government troops’ positions near the town of Novoazovsk, a port on the southeastern tip of Ukraine.
If the militias are victorious, forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) will gain access to the Sea of Azov, which is a northern extension of the Black Sea, while also taking control of a local checkpoint and forcing pro-Kiev troops away from the border with Russia.
Earlier reports said that heavy fighting near the Novoazovsk border crossing prompted Russian border guards to pull back inside the country over security concerns.
Running street battles are also continuing in a town of Ilovaisk, which is an important railway hub in the Donetsk region, a local militia commander told RIA Novosti on Saturday.
“Half of the town is de facto controlled by us, and the other half by them [government forces],” the commander said, adding self-defense forces are driving the Army out of the town. Pro-Kiev troops have taken up position on the outskirts and are shelling Ilovaisk.
On Wednesday, Kiev claimed control of Ilovaisk, but its troops failed to consolidate their grip on the town and were forced out.
Since mid-April, Kiev forces have been conducting a military operation in southeastern Ukraine, aimed at suppressing independence supporters who refused to acknowledge the new government that came to power following a February 22 coup.
Fierce fighting has led to a severe humanitarian crisis in the region marked by water and power shortages, prompting Russia to send a humanitarian convoy under the auspices of the Red Cross. The convoy comprised 227 trucks carrying about 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid that included baby food, medicine, grain, sugar, generators, sleeping bags and other necessities.