Ukrainian soldiers stand near their armed military vehicle near the Izyum city in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, 15 April 2014. Pro-Russian activists occupying state institutions in eastern Ukraine said 14 April: photo - EPA/ANASTASIA VLASOVA
Interim president Oleksander Turchinov in Kiev declared that a military airport in the eastern city of Kramatorsk had been "liberated" late Tuesday night after Ukrainian troops disembarked from two helicopters where reporters earlier heard gunfire.
President Turchinov said earlier yesterday that Ukraine was launching an "anti-terrorist" operation to clear buildings in ten locations throughout eastern Ukraine of pro-Russian forces.
At least two people died on Sunday when Ukrainian forces tried to retake police and local government buildings in Slaviansk, about 150 km from the Russian border, after they were occupied by pro-Russian groups.
On Tuesday, at least 15 armoured personnel carriers displaying Ukrainian flags were seen parked by the side of a road around 50 km north of Slaviansk, Reuters reports.
Ukrainian soldiers unload a military helicopter not far from Izyum city, Kharkiv area, Ukraine, 15 April: photo - EPA/ANASTASIA
Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a telephone conversation with Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday that Ukraine was "on the brink of civil war," the Russian ITAR-TASS agency says.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the TVN 24 broadcaster on Tuesday evening that only "Ukraine has a right to use force on its own territory".
"If some unidentified people take over the airport, [Ukraine] has the right to pick them up," Sikorski said of the operation in Kramatorsk.
"I do not know, however, what Russia will do," he added. "In some of its communications to the West, Russia has said that if Ukraine tries to regain control over its own territory, it would consider that as a pretext for an invasion".
"We know that Russia has enormous military superiority over Ukraine, so [Ukraine authorities] must calculate the risks and take them," Sikorski said.
A spokesman for US President Barack Obama has said Ukraine's government was obliged to respond to "provocations" in the east.
The White House spokesman added that the US was "seriously considering" adding to sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea, although the State Department said such action was unlikely before a meeting in Geneva on Thursday at which US, EU and Ukrainian officials will try to persuade Russia to defuse the situation. (pg)