Ukraine claims flag raised over partially regained Luhansk

Rebels fighting rearguard action to hold on to supply route into Russia, says Kiev

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (left) and Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin pass by one another while arriving for a group photo with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier  during talks over the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine at Villa Borsig in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (left) and Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin pass by one another while arriving for a group photo with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during talks over the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine at Villa Borsig in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

Ukrainian forces have raised their national flag over a police station in the city of Luhansk which was for months under rebel control, Kiev said yesterday, in what could be a breakthrough in Ukraine’s efforts to crush pro-Moscow separatists.

Ukrainian officials said, however, the rebels were fighting a rearguard action to hold on to Luhansk – their supply route into Russia – and the flow of weapons and fighters from Russia had accelerated.

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany were meeting in Berlin, and German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said talks would focus on how to achieve a ceasefire and prevent weapons and fighters crossing into eastern Ukraine.

“The news from today shows that we are far from an end to the conflict. People are still dying. We have no ceasefire. We are far away from a political solution,” Mr Steinmeier said.

Russia denies helping the rebels and accuses Kiev, backed by the West, of triggering a humanitarian crisis through indiscriminate use of force against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine who reject the Ukrainian government’s rule.

Andriy Lysenko, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said government forces fought separatists in Luhansk on Saturday and took control of the Zhovtneviy neighbourhood police station. “They raised the state flag over it,” Mr Lysenko said.

Separatist officials in Luhansk could not be reached by telephone, and a separatist spokeswoman in Donetsk, the other rebel stronghold, said she had no information about Luhansk.

Police station retaken

If confirmed, the taking of the police station is significant because Luhansk has for several months been a rebel redoubt where Kiev’s writ has not run. Separatists still control sections of the border linking the Luhansk region to Russia.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko announced another military success, saying his forces had recaptured a railway junction at Yasynuvata, north of Donetsk, which he said had “strategic significance”.

The four-month-old conflict in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east has reached a critical phase, with Kiev and western governments watching nervously to see if Russia will intervene to help besieged rebels.

The rebels responded with defiant rhetoric and fighting.

Ukrainian authorities said yesterday the separatists shot down a Ukrainian warplane.

On Saturday, Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said rebels were receiving some 150 armoured vehicles, including 30 tanks, and 1,200 fighters trained in Russia. He said they planned to launch a major counter-offensive. – (Reuters)