Ukraine rebels pledge new offensive
Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine warned on Saturday that they will launch a fresh offensive against government troops, days after seizing swathes of territory.
Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of sending regular army soldiers across the border to spearhead the lightning counter-attack that saw the tide turn after months of Ukrainian advances.
"We are preparing a second large-scale offensive," Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the rebel's self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic told Russian media.
"The Ukrainian army left us a lot of equipment, munitions and trophies. In the past day we have captured 40 military vehicles," he said.
Pro-Kiev forces said Saturday that they had begun withdrawing from a string positions around the transport hub of Ilovaysk to the southeast of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk after being trapped there by the surprise advance.
Zakharchenko said that rebel forces would now push on with a "mopping-up" operation in the area and try to break through government forces cutting off Donetsk from the second-largest insurgent-controlled city of Lugansk.
Ukraine's military said that it lost nine soldiers over the past 24 hours.
In Mariupol, a key port town some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Donetsk, preparations were being made to defend the city.
Zakharchenko warned however that rebel forces would enter the city in "the near future."
The government-held coastal city is some 30 kilometres (20 miles) west of a the seaside town of Novoazovsk that was captured on Wednesday by fighters flooding across the nearby Russian border.
At the eastern entrance of Mariupol an AFP journalist saw earthmoving equipment digging trenches in front of a crowd of hundreds of local residents singing the national anthem.
Municipal services were working as usual and streets were busy in the centre of the city that once had a population of 500,000, despite some residents fleeing over the past few days.
© 2014 AFP