Pro-Russian Rebels Flee Key Stronghold City in Eastern Ukraine

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 5 2014 10:44 AM

Pro-Russian Rebels Flee Key Stronghold City of Slovyansk in Eastern Ukraine

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Armed pro-Russian separatists board a bus as they leave their positions in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine on Saturday

REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Kiev celebrated a major military victory Saturday as Ukraine’s forces pushed pro-Russian rebels out of their key stronghold of Slovyansk. The city of around 100,000 people had become the center of the clashes between the insurgents and Kiev. But Ukraine security forces managed to push the rebels out and raise the country’s flag over the city, President Petro Poroshenko's office said in a statement, according to CNN. Rebels were planning to relocate in nearby Kramatorsk but it seems they were quickly pushed out of there as well. A Reuters reporter says around 20 vehicles filled with rebels drove out of Kramatorsk Saturday. The key seems to be sheer numbers: rebel fighters are apparently outnumbered 50 to one. “Due to the overwhelming numerical superiority of the enemy our men were forced to abandon their positions,” Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, wrote on a rebel website, according to the BBC.

Slovyansk has one of the country’s largest weapons storage facilities and has been under rebel control since April. Taking control of the city amounts to a significant victory for the Ukrainian army, “which has often appeared feckless in the months-long campaign against the rebels,” points out the Associated Press. It could mark a “turning point” in the conflict after a 10-day ceasefire broke down this week, notes the Guardian.

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Rebels are pleading with Russia for help, saying they could lose their gains without aid from Moscow. For its part, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it will stop the process of returning Ukrainian military material from Crimea “until the Ukrainian security forces completely stop military activities in eastern Ukraine and settle the situation in a peaceful way,” reports the Washington Post.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.