Ukraine has vowed to make pro-Russian rebels pay after losing 23 servicemen in clashes across the separatist east, while Russia proposed a UN resolution demanding a ceasefire to Europe’s deadliest conflict in decades.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said on Friday that the death toll included 19 troops killed in a hail of rockets fired from a truck-mounted Grad rocket launcher system — a type of weapon Kiev and Washington insist could only have been covertly supplied to the rebels by Russia.
The official spokesman of Ukraine’s intensifying eastern assault added that 93 servicemen had sustained “wounds and contusions of varying severity.”
“The rebels will pay for the life of every one of our servicemen with tens and hundreds of their own,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told an emergency security meeting. “Not a single terrorist will avoid responsibility. Every single one of them will get their just deserts.”
Friday’s official toll is the highest since Poroshenko tore up a brief ceasefire with the rebels on July 1 and relaunched an offensive that managed to dislodge the militias from key eastern strongholds they had held since early April.
The military separately spoke of “eliminating” nearly 100 fighters in one of Ukraine’s bloodiest days since the start of the crisis in November last year when anti-government protests spiraled into revolution and a protracted standoff with pro-Russian rebels.
Meanwhile, Russia has circulated a proposal for a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire between Kiev and the pro-Moscow insurgents.
Other elements of the measure would give a greater role to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told reporters on Friday.
He added that the council “should express deep concern about the increasing number of civilian casualties as a result of intensified combat operations.”
He also said Russia would allow OSCE monitors to be deployed at two border crossing points on its side of the frontier — a key issue for the West, which claims gunmen and weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
“There must be a sustainable ceasefire and then measures on the border and contacts,” Churkin said. “We do not want to see a military escalation, we want deescalation.”
Russia has asked the 14 other members of the council to respond by 2pm GMT tomorrow, although it has yet to request that the panel meet over the matter.
Two previous attempts by Moscow — caught up in a standoff with the West over the situation in Ukraine — to get the council to agree to a text proved unsuccessful.
Churkin accused Poroshenko of using a June 20 peace plan as “a smokescreen for intensifying operations in the east of the country” against the insurgents.
The tide in the eastern uprising turned last weekend when resurgent government forces managed to flush out the separatists from a string of eastern towns and cities that hold historic Russian ties.
Most of the militias have since retreated to Donetsk and the neighboring industrial city of Lugansk — both capitals of their own “People’s Republic” that refuse to recognize Kiev’s new Western-leaning government and are seeking annexation by Russia.
The conflict has claimed nearly 550 lives and displaced tens of thousands across a rustbelt that had long been the economic engine of the troubled post-Soviet state.