(Reuters) – The whole of Ukraine will be within reach of the “enemy” if its armed forces lose control of the international airport in the eastern city of Donetsk to separatists, President Petro Poroshenko said on Friday.
Poroshenko issued the warning after another night of intense fighting with Russian-backed rebels at the airport, part of a new spasm of violence in a conflict which has triggered the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
Ukrainian troops made a tactical withdrawal in the face of rebel mortar and artillery strikes then returned to their positions, the Kiev military said.
Six Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes with the separatists in the past 24 hours, a military spokesman said, despite a three-month ceasefire.
The latest fighting, which included fresh shelling on a district of rebel-controlled Donetsk in which a pensioner was killed, came just days before both sides were due to try to reinforce the shaky ceasefire by observing a “Day of Silence” on Dec. 9.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of sending troops across the border and arming the rebels, charges Moscow denies.
Poroshenko made his comments at a Kiev ceremony in which he awarded medals to some of the defenders who have hung doggedly on to control of the airport since May.
Written by: NATALIA ZINETS and MARIA TSVETKOVA – continue at REUTERS