Kiev announces town ‘liberated’ but residents dumbfounded
Ukraine's government announced Wednesday its forces had "liberated" an eastern town from pro-Kremlin separatists -- but AFP found no sign of military units and puzzled residents said they had never been under rebel control.
The interior ministry said in a statement that Svyatogorsk, a town of 5,000 inhabitants around 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of the flashpoint city of Slavyansk, was “liberated from illegal armed separatist groups” by special forces, with no casualties.
It claimed the town was a “strategic” point between some of the bigger towns that are in rebels hands.
But an AFP journalist who arrived in Svyatogorsk to verify the information found no presence of any military or militant force.
Residents said they were surprised to learn of Kiev’s announcement, saying pro-Russian rebels had never tried to seize their town.
“It’s very calm here and has always been very calm,” said a local who gave his first name as Miron.
Kiev on Tuesday declared it was resuming an “anti-terrorist” operation to flush the separatists out of around 10 towns they are occupying in Ukraine’s east.
The beginning of the operation last week resulted in a couple of embarrassing failures, with the rebels notably stealing six armoured personnel carriers from the army, which managed to recover two of them later on.