Pro-Moscow separatists controlling the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk yesterday called for Russian peacekeepers to deploy and announced a curfew after a gunbattle nearby killed at least two of their militants.
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the rebel leader in the town, told reporters he had made an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin “to study the possibility of sending peacekeepers to defend the population against the fascists” — the term Moscow and the separatists use to designate Ukraine’s new government and its supporters.
He also announced a curfew for the town of about 130,000 people, during which it will be forbidden to be out in the streets.
“The curfew comes into effect today — from midnight to 6am,” he said.
A car with a megaphone drove around Slavyansk’s streets repeating the order.
The steps came hours after a deadly gunbattle at a roadblock in the village of Bilbasivka, 18km west of Slavyansk.
A photographer saw the bodies of two killed militants.
However, Ponomaryov said four people had died: three militants and one of the unidentified attackers.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “outraged” by the attack near Slavyansk, which it blamed on the Right Sector, a Kiev-based ultra-nationalist group that was at the vanguard of street protests that forced the February ouster of pro-Kremlin former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
The Right Sector has dismissed the charge as “lies” and “propaganda” designed to portray eastern Ukraine as ungovernable by Kiev.
A pro-Russian rebel who said he was at the roadblock near Slavyansk at the time of the attack said: “Four cars pulled up to our roadblock around 1am. We wanted to conduct a check, and then they opened fire on us with automatic weapons.”
The masked 20-year-old, who gave his name as Vladimir, said there were about 20 attackers, but that he was not sure of casualties on their side.
Three of his fellow pro-Russian militants at the barricade were killed and four were wounded, he said.
Separatist gunmen maintain a firm grip over a string of towns across Ukraine’s industrial east despite an international deal demanding they vacate state buildings they are occupying.
The Western-backed authorities in Kiev had declared an Easter truce in their so far unsuccessful military operations to try to oust the separatists.
The gunbattle was the first violence reported since a Geneva accord worked out between Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU last week that is meant to see “illegal armed groups” lay down their weapons and cease their occupation of public buildings.
The separatists in Slavyansk and elsewhere in the east have refused to follow the accord.