Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced to the nation Sunday that the Ukrainian army had retaken the city of Sloviansk from pro-Russian rebels, a city believed to be one in which the anti-Kiev forces were most deeply entrenched.
According to the Washington Post, the government of Ukraine definitively declared that they had control of Sloviansk, a town in which some of the most intense fighting between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian fighters had taken place. The city had seen a mass exodus of residents in June as fighting intensified, and pro-Russian forces there took responsibility for several kidnappings of journalists and neutral observers. The Russian Federation itself admitted to having provided “humanitarian aid” to the armed rebels in Sloviansk that sought to bring Russian sovereignty to the city.
Despite the aid, days of intense fighting have resulted in the fighters fleeing the city. The Washington Post notes that Poroshenko ordered that the Ukrainian flag fly once again over Sloviansk city hall. He also delivered a televised speech announcing the recapture of the city.
In the speech, Poroshenko describes the victory as one of “huge symbolic importance.” While he warned that “this is not a complete victory yet, and it is not the time for fireworks displays,” he allowed for some declaration of victory: “But the cleansing of Sloviansk from gangs who are armed to the teeth is of huge symbolic importance. This is the start of a turning point in the fight against the militants.”
The recapture of Sloviansk follows news of the recapture of large majorities of two other areas in East Ukraine of significant dispute: Luhansk and Donetsk, where rebels forces still persisted but where Ukrainian authorities insisted their influence had waned. The Ukrainian government gained this territory despite Ukrainian authorities’ protesting that the Russian government had continued to aid rebels in the area. According to the head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, 20 Russian tanks had joined the rebels illegally in the east.
Leadership among the pro-Russian rebels appeared to disagree, however. Igor Girkin, a leader of the pro-Russia fighters and self-appointed “commander in chief of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” released a video asking Russia for more aid in fighting the Ukrainian army. His men, he said, “want to live in Russia… but when they try to assert this right, Russia doesn’t want to help.”
While the situation remains unstable, the victories for the Ukrainian army appear to be development momentum in the nation’s favor. The return to Sloviansk occurred days after Poroshenko announced an end to the ceasefire with pro-Russia groups.