Ukrainian forces launched a “special operation” on Tuesday against separatist militia in the Russian-speaking East, authorities said, although aside from a landing by airborne troops the action was limited.
Soldiers disembarked from two helicopters at an airfield at Kramatorsk, where reporters earlier heard gunfire that seemed to prevent an air force plane from landing. The troops withdrew into barracks after local civilians manning a barricade gave them a hostile reception when they tried to leave the compound.
In Kiev, acting President Oleksander Turchinov declared a much-needed victory over pro-Russian rebels by saying the air base had been “liberated.” But there was no sign of militants.
A senior Ukrainian officer told the unarmed crowd that he had come to direct an “anti-terrorist operation” that Turchinov announced earlier in the day, after more than a week of missed deadlines set by Kiev for armed pro-Moscow activists to end occupations of public buildings in some 10 places in the east.
But after a scuffle with some of the hundreds who chanted hostility to the new Ukrainian authorities, some of them holding Russian flags, the troops pulled back at dusk.
Ukraine’s state security service said an “anti-terrorist” operation was also in progress against separatists in the nearby town of Slaviansk but there was no immediate evidence of action.