News / Europe

Ukraine Anti-Terrorist Unit Faces Frustrations in Restoring Order

People block a column of Ukrainian Army combat vehicles on their way to the town of Kramatorsk on April 16, 2014.
People block a column of Ukrainian Army combat vehicles on their way to the town of Kramatorsk on April 16, 2014.
For the commander of Ukrainian anti-terrorist units dispatched to this town in the country’s restive east, the challenge facing her is rapidly becoming frustrating. She is expected to restore order to the town without engaging Moscow-backed pro-Russian militants – an action that could provoke Russia to follow through on threats to intervene to protect separatists.

“The situation is very strange,” Col. Yulia said, gesturing to a small checkpoint that a ragtag group of militants has thrown up on the road leading to the town’s small airport. The colonel, who declined to provide her full name, is based there with crack units drawn from the Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU, and the army.

Yulia said her biggest frustration is not being able to trust the local police. “It is difficult to tell who is with us and who against,” she said. “Most of them are hedging their bets and waiting to see who wins.”

On April 21, separatists, possibly with Russian intelligence operatives directing them, stormed the town’s central police station and kidnapped the police chief.  They seized also handguns from the station.

Since then, the police have been inactive, the colonel said, and this rust belt Donbas town 100 kilometers north of Donetsk has been buffeted by a rise in petty crime.

Ukrainian officials claim that Donbas crime bosses have been backing the pro-Russian militancy, hoping to cash in on the anarchy.

Speaking at the entrance to the airport, which is guarded by heavily armed men from the units she commands, Yulia said most of the locals are keen to see the militants leave and frequently appeal to her units to do the job the police should be doing.

RPG attack

The colonel was speaking just two hours before militants attacked the airport, firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a parked military helicopter and hitting the fuel tank. The chopper’s pilot was injured in the explosion, which sent dark plumes of smoke billowing across the airport.

The attack coincided with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv insisting they would continue an anti-terrorist campaign launched Thursday with an assault on a separatist checkpoint on the outskirts of Slovyansk, Kramatorsk’s smaller neighbor. It’s controlled by hardcore pro-Russian militant Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a mercurial former Soviet military officer and a key figure in the pro-Russian militancy in eastern Ukraine.

Five militants were killed in the early-morning assault on the separatist checkpoint, prompting renewed warnings from Moscow against taking action against Kremlin-backed separatists who are occupying 30 government and police buildings in 10 cities across eastern Ukraine.

In response to the assault, Russia’s defense minister announced Russian forces would embark on new military drills near the border.

But Ukrainian leaders appear to have recalibrated their strategy to defeat pro-Russian separatists, hoping to avoid Russian retaliation.


Instead of confronting hardline separatists head-on in Slovyansk, a town they assess is at the heart of the pro-Russian agitation, Ukrainian leaders are now aiming to isolate them by encircling the town and preventing militants from moving in and out and recruiting and directing others in neighboring cities.

“We have made a decision to fully blockade the city of Slovyansk,” Sergei Pashinsky, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said in a statement Friday.

Vasyl Krutov, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service’s Anti-Terrorist Center, said Friday that officials had decided not to storm Slovyansk because an assault on the town could lead to high casualties among locals.

Yulia said she and her troops would not fire on unarmed civilians.

“We have explained to them that the SBU and the national army will not shoot at them and that we are here to protect them and Ukraine from foreign aggression,” she said.

She said locals also had expressed fear about violent ultranationalists.

“When we first arrived five days ago, they kept asking us whether we were members of ultranationalist groups like Right Sector,” she said.

Russian officials accuse far-right ultranationalists of being behind the February ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, whose toppling triggered the current Ukraine crisis. And media outlets controlled by the Kremlin have been claiming that Ukrainian ultranationalists are planning pograms of ethnic Russians.

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Comment Sorting
by: Samo Umer
April 27, 2014 6:14 AM
The West should provide the pro-democracy government in Kiev with drones and training to target the terrorists and their terrorist cities. The Putin regime is on the brink of collapse!

by: M Boyle from: Ireland
April 25, 2014 10:57 PM
Apparently thugs and criminals run eastern Ukraine, journalist kidnap pings, murder of local Ukrainian politicos, the true nature of the region for the world to see, Putin says Russian citizens here, if I were Russian I'd be embarrassed.
In Response

by: jim from: england
April 27, 2014 6:04 AM
Why is the US news co,are calling the Ukrainians who are opposing the coupe..."terrorist"???

by: Dennis from: GA-US
April 25, 2014 4:30 PM
I'm just worried about the people there on the ground, the majority of whom do not care about politics. You have to understand, this is not a war zone like Afghanistan. Military assault on cities should not be happening in Ukraine. Whoever is behind these orders is just bad. The best solution is peaceful negotiations. The current government in Kiev is obviously not popular in these areas, and they have to accept it. Ukraine has always been divided, otherwise they would have been in a much better shape a long time ago. Well, nothing really changed, the March revolution leaders have a very one-sided agenda that is favored in one geographic area and not in the other one. It is not possible for one government to satisfy both of these political views, the only way to peacefully solve it is to have a loose federation of two independent Ukraines. In that case everybody will be satisfied. One will be a NATO member and EU candidate, the other one is not, etc. Instead of pulling larger countries to the conflict they should try to resolve these issues internally, and be realistic about it. The local officials, instead of talking of WW3, and nuclear conflict etc., should re-assess the situation, and negotiate a peaceful solution. Armageddon talk is just not helpful and is damaging for the world economy. The world right now needs culm, in order to continue the economic recovery, which is very shaky, to say the least. Any talk of widening the conflict is just irresponsible on anybody's part.

by: David Giles from: Michigan
April 25, 2014 2:25 PM
Didn't read the article. Just look at the picture. Civilians are stopping the personal carriers trying to go east. Civilians, not Russian soldiers in disguise. Not terrorists or militants. Civilians. And look how hard the Ukrainian military is trying to get past them. Not at all. My suspicion is the Ukrainian Military forces attacking the people holding buildings in the east are really US special forces. The Ukrainian people have no interest in this violence being perpetuated by outside forces.
In Response

by: M Boyle from: Ireland
April 25, 2014 10:30 PM
This region offers little of value to either side here, if these were my country men I would be the first to show them the door, just keep heading east , and good ridance ...
In Response

by: jim water from: virginia
April 25, 2014 7:05 PM
Don’t fool yourself, David. Not all residents of Ukraine feel they are Ukrainians. Many of them are Soviets, and they want to live in the USSR, not in Ukraine. This is the biggest problem for the region.

by: navre from: USA
April 25, 2014 2:18 PM
Let Ukraine work this out with out the US/EU vs Russia influence.

Russia does have a valid interest since the Ukraine sits right on their boarder and has a huge security interest if Ukraine is pushed into NATO by the US/EU.

We would not want a hostile military alliance on our boarder in Mexico or Canada. We would never allow it to happen and they should not.

Ukraine should agree to not join NATO or station advance weapons or tactical nuclear weapons on their soil. Then agree to equal rights to all Ukrainians regardless of language or ethnicity.

These are just and responsible solutions to avoid this potential civil war.
In Response

by: stlshane from: United States
April 27, 2014 10:51 AM
I am not sure if you know this but there is this country called Cuba 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Secondly, how exactly is NATO hostile to Russia? Is NATO invading and annexing soverign countries? Has NATO had a history of forcefully bringing other countries into the alliance? Ukraine should have the freedom to ally with whoever they want especially when they have a hostile dictator on their border.
In Response

by: John Jones from: United Kingdom
April 27, 2014 5:57 AM
You really believe, Nacre, that Russia isn't still a threat to the rest of the world in one way or another, or that Putin is not a megalomaniac with tendencies to take back all of what the USSR "lost" when it collapsed..? These "breakaway" nations - so-called by the Russian Federation - wanted their freedom from the tyranny of tight control and the emasculation of their civic and civil rights; a right of choice is what they desired but did not have to join in with other nations wherever else in the world they may be. The individuals causing the unrest and fomenting the current warlike heat and hatred are those who most benefitted from being Russian in every sense of the word, and tying themselves in the day to the shirt-tails of the USSR - but they live in the Ukraine, NOT in Russia..! And if the Ukraine falls to Russian control what next for Putin; Poland, the free Baltic States..? A walkover, and the rest of the world doing nothing about it..? It doesn't need war to dispel Putin's ambitions: what about expelling Russia from the United Nations..? Even temporarily that would stop the gerrymandering of the single-nation veto nonsense by them..!
In Response

by: Bruce from: Texas
April 27, 2014 5:44 AM are absolutely correct. We did not allow Russia to come within 90 miles of our boarder, during the Cuban missile crisis and NATO forces on Russia's border would constitute a threat. Lets also remember that the US covertly played a huge role in this uprising, just as they did in the ARAB Spring uprisings. We got boots on the ground in that region, by invading a sovereign nation, based on lies and deceit, then sent them across the boarders covertly, to organize groups and offer support, in countries whose leaders we did not like.
In Response

by: Plain Mirror Intl from: Plain Planet - Africa
April 26, 2014 7:40 AM
Thank you my dear navre from: USA. How I wished everyone would have a sincere reasoning, conception of the situation and the reality on the ground as you have just analysed. If any thing gets worse in this crisis, Ukraine and its "power holding gang" would have themselves to blame. The USA can easily say that it is a trait to their national security. Can't wee see that the move of this gang that is holding power in Ukraine is a trait to the Russian national security... ? We have to ask ourselves questions, would US or any of the G8 member nations tolerate such on its border nation? If one fails to understand what security means to greatness, then that person would never smell greatness.

by: skiimaan from: usa
April 25, 2014 2:09 PM
To save people's lives, Ukraine PM should raise the white flag, surrender to Russia while seeking political asylum in the West. Ukrainian people should realize that when CIA director stopped by shortly, VP Biden came then left, it was like "good bye, you're on your own. Your country ain't got no oil, no interest to US. No US troops will ever set boots on your ground. Good luck." If the US was really serious with Ukraine, VP Biden would have stayed permanently in Kiev to post a banner to Russia, "an attack on me, Biden is an attack on the US." Sadly, VP Biden left.

by: meanbill from: USA
April 25, 2014 1:19 PM
IF ONLY? -- If only the two Ukrainian sides could meet, and form a revised constitution for Ukraine, that guarantees the rights of all Ukrainians, without any outside interference? --
That's their only solution, and they and not the world, are the only ones to decide the future of Ukraine, on it being a democracy, or some other type of government? -- Then vote on it?

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