NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Battle For Donetsk's Airport Claims Many Lives


This is MORING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene. Journalists in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk say the city morgue is filled with dozens of stacked bodies. These are pro-Russian rebels killed in the past few days during fighting at the Donetsk airport. Ukraine's government says it is now in control of that airport. It used helicopters and fighter jets to attack rebels who had occupied it. Ukraine is saying that Moscow is behind this violence and they say Russia is quote, exporting terrorism. Let's try and sort this out with NPR's Peter Kenyon who's in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Peter, good morning.


GREENE: So this sounds like some of the worst violence that we've seen in the months of this instability in Ukraine. What is the latest from the East right now?

KENYON: Overnight, there's reports of clashes in Sloviansk. This is another pro-Russian stronghold in the East. No immediate casualty reports from there. In Donetsk, there was some fighting yesterday. So far, most of the deaths that were reporting occurred Monday, with the government's harsh response to that seizure of the airport. The government now controls it we're told.

The local mayor says besides dozens of dead, there were hundreds wounded and among those wounded, journalists and medical workers are finding Chechens - other foreign fighters who say they were invited in to help the pro-Russian rebels. As for where they're coming from, Russia has been largely silent. But Ukraine's border guards are issuing almost nightly alerts about convoys of trucks and cars carrying men and weapons, rolling across the border in such numbers that they can't stop all of them. Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danylo Lubkivsky, says these illegal crossings show Moscow's real intentions, despite its saying that it respects the Ukrainian vote. Here's what he said.


DANYLO LUBKIVSKY: 40 vehicles of terrorists attempt to break through our frontier. There was no attempt to stop them by the Russian authorities. We strongly condemn this act of an unannounced war that being waged on Ukraine. Russia is exporting terrorism in the most brutal un-shamed manner possible. This needs to stop.

GREENE: Quite a charge there - Russia denying it, of course. I mean, that question notwithstanding, this obviously is the biggest challenge for Petro Poroshenko, who was just elected as Ukraine's president. He says he wants to talk with Russia about trying to end this violence. But he's also been saying that he wants to pour a lot of money into the military - I mean, raise soldiers' pay, increase their firepower - which is going to send quite a message to Russia. Can he do all of that together?

KENYON: This is a very difficult question. Poroshenko - and we have to remind ourselves - he hasn't been sworn in yet. He and the government here are saying the gloves are off, they're going to crush this insurgency. Strengthening the military is a top priority. But some wonder how quickly Poroshenko can actually do that. And is he really willing to risk provoking Russia into a possible military intervention? Now Poroshenko's supporters say this is an antiterrorist operation, any country would behave the same. But whichever side of that argument you take, it seems the risk of more violence is pretty high.

GREENE: Difficult as this situation sounds Peter, I mean, Ukrainians did come together and elect a man who, at least, there are signs that he might be able to work with Russia and with European leaders. I mean, is there a sense of optimism here that we haven't seen in past months?

KENYON: Well, there's a couple ways to look at it. Certainly, they voted for Poroshenko in the first round, which was a bit unexpected. That shows a kind of resolve to get this behind them, turn the page to another chapter. On the other hand, analysts say many voters seemed to have voted for Mr. Poroshenko because he's the only candidate with any hope of even solving this problem. So it's kind of a question of can anyone help us? If so, it may be you, Petro Poroshenko.

GREENE: Alright. NPR's Peter Kenyon, talking to us from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.