Ukraine crisis: Troops surround pro-Russian stronghold

Pro-Russian activists attack a government building in Donetsk amid anger over the Odessa fire

Ukrainian troops have surrounded the pro-Russian stronghold of Sloviansk in the east, with residents saying they fear they will be stormed.

At present the troops appear to be concentrating on retaking government buildings from separatists in smaller towns around Sloviansk.

Pro-Russian groups have reacted angrily to the deaths of many separatists in a fire in Odessa in the south on Friday.

Dozens were killed after barricading themselves in a building in the city.

'Absurd'

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in the regional capital Donetsk says that while it appears Ukrainian forces have sealed off the roads in and out of Sloviansk, they are moving around the city and concentrating on smaller towns nearby.

Analysis

It appears for the moment that the Ukrainian troops are leaving aside the stronghold of Sloviansk. Kiev talks of it being encircled and the fighting does appear to be concentrated in towns outside.

I spoke to one person last night in Sloviansk who said people there were extremely nervous. They were expecting the place to be stormed and that it could be their last night in control, with heavy fighting. But that did not happen.

We have seen pro-Russian groups in Donetsk and Luhansk and places to the south of here reacting very angrily to the deaths in Odessa - trying to take over government buildings once again.

Our correspondent spoke to a resident of Sloviansk who said people there were expecting the town to be stormed.

Several people were reported killed in clashes around Sloviansk on Saturday. The defence ministry said one checkpoint was removed overnight.

Gunfire was also reported overnight in Kostyantynivka and Mariupol as Ukrainian forces tried to reclaim government offices.

Saturday also saw fighting around Kramatorsk, where Ukrainian forces retook the police building, TV tower and SBU security service offices. At least two people were killed in the town.

Our correspondent says passions are running very high following the deaths in Odessa, with pro-Russian activists in Luhansk and Donetsk attacking government buildings.

Pro-Russian gunmen in Mariupol set fire to barricades and videos showed a branch of PrivatBank, a bank owned the pro-Kiev governor of Dnipropetrovsk, being burned down.

A Ukrainian soldier points his weapon at an approaching car at a checkpoint near Sloviansk - 3 May 2014 Ukrainian soldiers are ringing the stronghold of Sloviansk but have yet to move on the centre
Map

Some 42 people died in Odessa on Friday, most of them in the fire at the Trade Unions House, where separatist protesters had barricaded themselves following running battles with pro-Kiev activists.

The blackened building was ringed by police on Saturday and there were some scuffles as groups chanting pro-Russian slogans clashed with government supporters.

The violence there was the most serious in Ukraine since February when more than 80 people were killed during protests in Kiev against the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

A Russian government spokesman accused Ukraine's interim government of encouraging nationalist extremists and said it would be "absurd" for the country to hold a planned presidential election on 25 May.

A pro-Russia protester waves a Donbass flag after storming a governor's offices in Donetsk - 3 May 2014 The violence in Odessa was the most serious in Ukraine since clashes in Kiev in February
Pro-Russian activists shout "we will not forgive Odessa" in Donetsk - 3 May 3 Pro-Russian groups shouted "we will not forgive Odessa" as they gathered in Donetsk
Pro-Russian gunmen stand near the seized regional government headquarters in Luhansk - 3 May 2014 Pro-Russian gunmen have built barricades in the east in preparation for a government offensive

Russia has urged the US to put pressure on Kiev to stop its military operation, which he said risked "plunging the country into a fratricidal conflict".

Washington, in turn, says Moscow should stop backing the pro-Russian separatists - or risk incurring further sanctions from the West.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by pro-Western protesters in February.

Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula - part of Ukraine but with a Russian-speaking majority - in a move that provoked international outrage.

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