DONETSK, Ukraine — Forty people were killed in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels for control of Donetsk airport in the east of the country, the local mayor said Tuesday.
“Two civilians and 38 participants of the fighting were killed in the course of the anti-terror operation,” Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko told reporters, adding that local hospitals were treating another 31 wounded.
At least 30 bodies of killed fighters were brought to a hospital following a day of heavy fighting in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, in which the government forces used combat jets against pro-Russia rebels, an insurgent said Tuesday.
The rebel fighter, who wouldn’t give his name because of security concerns, said outside the hospital in Donetsk that 30 bodies of his fellow insurgents were delivered there.
He said the truck carrying the bodies was still parked outside the hospital, waiting for explosives experts to check it for any unexploded ordnance.
Donetsk, a city of 1 million, saw heavy fighting Monday, when rebels moved to seize the city’s airport, Ukraine’s second largest, and were repelled by government forces, which used combat jets and helicopter gunships.
Associated Press journalists witnessed sustained intensive gun fire throughout the day and into the night. Plumes of black smoke rose in the air.
Officials closed the airport, and police shut nearby streets for traffic. The city mayor went on television advising residents to stay at home.
Monday’s battle came just as billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential vote. Poroshenko has vowed to negotiate a peaceful end to an insurgency in the east, where rebels have seized government offices and fought Ukrainian troops for more than a month.
Yet Poroshenko described the separatists as “Somali pirates,” saying that arms should be used against “killers and terrorists,” but he also indicated that he wants a quick end to the military operation in the east.
“The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months,” he said. “It should and will last hours.”
Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow. Upon claiming victory, he said his first step as president would be to visit the east.
He said he hoped Russia would support his efforts to bring stability and that he wanted to hold talks with Moscow.
Russia welcomed his intention to engage in talks with people in the east and said it would be ready to work with Poroshenko.
Russia has denied accusations by the Ukrainian interim government and the West that it has fomented the insurgency in the east. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stonewalled the insurgents’ appeal to join Russia and welcomed the Ukrainian presidential election in an apparent bid to de-escalate tensions with the West, which has plunged to a post-Cold War low after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
But Russia has kept pushing for Ukraine to decentralize its government, which would give more power to regions, including those in the east, and wants Kiev to withdraw its troops from the area.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.