'No quarter will be given': Slavyansk rebels gird for siege
Pro-Kremlin rebels bracing Friday for further clashes with Ukraine's military encircling their flashpoint eastern town vowed they would be ferocious in defending their positions.
"No quarter will be given," boasted one heavily armed insurgent standing at a roadblock which was attacked the previous day during a brief incursion by Ukrainian armoured vehicles and commandos.
If Kiev's army returns, "we will inflict a major defeat and will take no prisoners," stated another, wearing a ski mask and cradling a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
For all the bravado, and the violence from Thursday, Kiev says its troops will not be attacking Slavyansk again any time soon.
Instead they are setting up a perimeter around the town to prevent militant reinforcements arriving, and, they say, to prevent civilian casualties.
"We will not surrender the town," the local rebel leader, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told a news conference.
"We will resist as long as possible. The town is blockaded. We are ready to defend it."
The insurgents were seen Friday in positions next to barricades newly bolstered with extra sandbags.
They refuse to give their names. Or what weaponry they possess. But one claimed they had "all the necessary things to liquidate armoured vehicles".
On Thursday, the checkpoint at the entrance to the town was set on fire by the rebels themselves, who withdrew as smoke poured off tyres piled up for the purpose.
Half a dozen armoured personnel carriers drove past the roadblock, followed by commandos on foot. In the ensuing clash, a 22-year-old militant was killed and another was wounded.
On Friday, the roadblock, reduced to ashes, was still giving off smoke.
- Troops tighten the noose -
Some 15 kilometres (10 miles) away, soldiers not wearing insignias but obviously with the Ukrainian armed forces had set up concrete blocks across the road with the help of a crane.
There were around 40 of them, armed with assault rifles, and many with their faces masked. Their uniforms and the registration of the two buses nearby were those of the Ukrainian army.
Elite snipers were camouflaged in the surrounding terrain, behind bushes.
The commander of the unit refused reporters' questions, citing "military secrecy".
In nearby Izyum, just 10 kilometres away, the identities were clearer: several interior ministry troops, dressed in all black, helmeted and with bullet-proof vests, were protected by two transport carriers, one with a machine-gun at a checkpoint at which they checked vehicle traffic.
A white helicopter was sitting in a field close by.
"We have to do something. This is our land," said their commander, who gave his first name as Sergey.
"But of course, it's up to the politicians to decide."
A short drive away, at least seven Ukrainian armoured vehicles were in position, about 20 kilometres from the town of Artemivsk. An army base in the town early Thursday repelled an attack by around 100 heavily armed separatists.
Meanwhile, in Cherkask, to the west of Slavyansk, locals said they saw five transporters drive by filled with Ukrainian troops.
"They were probably scouts," ventured one pensioner.
Back towards Slavyansk, at a roadblock where unidentified assailants opened fire last weekend with the deaths of three insurgents, new barricades had been set up, manned by wary militants with Kalashnikovs.
Others had also been erected closer to the heart of the town, where the situation late Friday felt calm, but on edge.
© 2014 AFP