Ukrainians Score Big Victory Over Separatists

Ukrainian forces have recaptured the city of Slovyansk from pro-Russian separatists.

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The Ukrainian Government has dislodged pro-Russian rebels from a key city in eastern Ukraine:

KIEV, Ukraine — With a fierce onslaught of gunfire and mortar shelling, Ukrainian government forces on Saturday chased pro-Russian insurgents from Slovyansk, a long-blockaded rebel stronghold, government officials and separatist leaders said.

As rebels fled the city, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in a separatist insurrection that has lasted more than three months, the Ukrainian military destroyed a tank, two combat vehicles and two armored personnel carriers, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Lysenko, said.

“Run!” the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote in a jubilant Facebook post on the retaking of Solvyansk. “The terrorists are bearing losses, surrendering.”

Though it was not yet clear whether the retaking of Slovyansk signaled a decisive blow against the rebels in eastern Ukraine, it showed that Ukrainian forces were finally gaining traction and reasserting state authority, three months after separatists seized control of cities and towns throughout the region, dividing this country of 45 million people.

The Ukrainian advance on Saturday came four days after President Petro O. Poroshenko ended a cease-fire and ordered the military to resume efforts to crush the rebellion by force. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military retook an important checkpoint at a border crossing with Russia, one of several that had been seized by rebels and that the Ukrainian government and its Western allies said were used to allow Russian tanks, weapons and fighters to cross into the region.

Insurgent leaders confirmed that their fighters had fled under heavy attack by the Ukrainian military, but insisted that they were not giving up. “Our resistance has not been crushed,” Andrei Purgin, an insurgent leader, told the Interfax news service.

He said the rebels had abandoned the city because they were overwhelmed militarily.

Well I’m no military expert, but I’d call that a retreat, and a seemingly significant one at that.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the fight in eastern Ukraine is over, but it is the first time that the government in Kiev has managed to dislodge the rebels from one of their strongholds and put them on the run, and that has significance not only in terms of the strategic value of the city itself but also in how it will impact morale on both sides of the conflict. This is likely to boost Ukrainian morale after what has seemed like a long standoff in which the rebels have entrenched their positions, and it may serve to cause people in the east who have been sitting on the sidelines to side with the government over the rebels. To that extent, we could be looking at a turning point in the conflict.

The overriding question, of course, is what the Russians will do about this. Interestingly, yesterday President Putin sent an Independence Day message to President Obama in which he seemed to send some signals that some are interpret as an effort at fence mending. Putin being Putin it is always wise to be wary of what his motives are, of course, and there continue to be reports of clandestine Russian operations in eastern Ukraine to assist the separatists. At the same time, though, Vladimir Putin’s recent actions suggest that he may not have the territorial designs on eastern Ukraine that many feared in the wake of the Crimean referendum, or at least that he has calculated that pushing the matter further at this time would provoke a backlash from the West.  If that’s the case, then he likely wouldn’t be above throwing the pro-Russian separatists in the east under the bus if it thought it was in his and Russia’s interests.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    One of the problems Putin has is that a majority of the Russians are very nationalistic and would like a return to the old Soviet Union. I worked with several Ukrainians when I was with the DIA and they hated the Russians. I’m not sure how this ends well.

  2. Grewgills says:

    If that’s the case, then he likely wouldn’t be above throwing the pro-Russian separatists in the east under the bus if it thought it was in his and Russia’s interests.

    I’m guessing he’ll throw them under the bus in exchange for ending or radically reducing sanctions against Russia and with Russia retaining Crimea. He will have gained his territorial ambition and only paid for it with a few months sanctions.

  3. dazedandconfused says:

    Not sure he’s decided to abandon them yet, myself. Funny how people using artillery on their own people gets vastly different reactions in the US media, isn’t it? How the brutality affects the feelings of the people in eastern Ukrainia is unknown. Could cause the Separatists to gain support or go the other way.

    Putin may have overlooked taking Crimea shears away a huge chunk of the pro-Russian vote in Ukrainian politics. He will have to pay a price in domestic politics, at least, for drawing a red line and them backing away from it for the remainder. He promised to support those people and all the Russians know it. This may be far from over.