31 perish in fire in Odessa, Ukraine, after daylong pro-Kiev, pro-Moscow clashes – New York Daily News
The bloody battles between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels spread Friday to the port city of Odessa, where 31 people were reportedly killed when a union hall was set ablaze.
It was one of the deadliest days of the de facto civil war that has been ripping the former Soviet state apart.
Moscow warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the government in Kiev did not stop its offensive against the militants in eastern Ukraine.
But the Ukrainians, determined to stop Russia from peeling off more of their territory, struck back against the rebels occupying government buildings in 10 eastern cities.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said “many” militants were killed and wounded.
The U.S., which has accused Vladimir Putin of creating the crisis to justify taking over Ukrainian territory where ethnic Russians predominate, called Kiev’s response “proportionate and reasonable” in the face of aggression.
In Washington, President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened tougher new sanctions against Russia if it didn’t back off.
STRINGER/REUTERS A pro-Russian tent camp burns near the Odessa, Ukraine, trade union building on Friday. STRINGER/REUTERS A protester wrapped in a Ukrainian flag walks past a burning tent camp and a fire in the trade union building in Odessa, Ukraine, on Friday. STRINGER/REUTERS As fire burns the Odessa, Ukraine, trade union building, people wait for rescue perched on ledges. STRINGER/REUTERS People wait for rescue on an upper storey ledge during a fire at the trade union building Friday in Urkainian city Odessa.
Odessa, a key Black Sea port, had until now avoided the unrest roiling much of the rest of the country.
It was a strong supporter of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally whose ouster in February helped set off the fighting. And it had remained calm even as the Russians annexed nearby Crimea in March. But ethnic Ukrainians are the majority in Odessa. And for days, pro-Kiev and pro-Moscow factions had been staging public but peaceful protests in the streets.
Rossia 24 Television Channel/AP Two crew members of the Ukrainian helicopters were killed in the crash after fighting broke out around dawn near Slovyansk. Some pro-Russia militiamen were killed as well, reports say. Rossia 24 Television Channel/AP Pro-Russian militia shot down two Ukrainian helicopters in Solvyansk after fighting broke out around dawn on Friday. Images show the injured pilot of one of the military helicopters being carried by pro-Russian activists. Rossia 24 Television Channel/AP The pilot is one of two Ukrainian military helicopters shot down after the launch of a major offense against the pro-Russian insurgents after they seized several government buildings including police stations. BAZ RATNER/REUTERS On Thursday, Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, ordered a military draft be renewed following threats against the nation’s ‘territorial integrity.’
Then, on Friday, both sides went after each other with cobblestones and Molotov cocktails, and soon the barricades began to burn.
Ukrainian riot police scattered and at least three people were killed in clashes.
Then, for reasons still unclear, a fire broke out in a trade union building. Officials said some victims died from smoke inhalation while others jumped from the building, the BBC reported.
In the city of Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine, three people were killed in clashes and two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down — one of them with a sophisticated surface-to-air missile.
The Ukrainian Security Service said this was the work of “highly skilled foreign military men.”
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called on the insurgents to lay down their arms.
“We are ready to negotiate with protesters and their representatives,” he said. “But for terrorists and armed separatists, there is only punishment.”
With News Wire Services