Ukrainians flee as army suffers losses
DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine's president vowed to take vengeance in blood for the deaths of 19 troops killed in an insurgent rocket attack on Friday, and residents of the rebel-held city of Donetsk began fleeing in large numbers, fearing a government siege.
The barrage of rocket fire just before sunrise at a base near the Russian border was a devastating setback for government forces, who seemingly gained the upper hand last weekend when they pushed the pro-Russia fighters out of their stronghold city of Slovyansk. In addition to those killed, 93 soldiers were wounded, the Defense Ministry said.
“For every life of our soldiers, the militants will pay with tens and hundreds of their own,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned. “Not one terrorist will evade responsibility. Everybody will get what is coming to them.”
Ukrainian government troops have been fighting for more than three months against separatists in eastern Ukraine, and in the last two weeks, they have cut the territory held by the rebels in half. Driven from Slovyansk, the rebels have regrouped in Donetsk, an industrial city of 1 million, and Ukraine has said it will cordon off the area.
In anticipation of a siege, leaders of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic announced they will evacuate entire neighborhoods. Many residents have rushed to pack up and leave for fear of getting caught in the cross-fire, given the insurgents' strategy of using residential areas for cover.
“The militia has begun blowing up roads, so I want to get out while there is still time. I don't want to turn into a living shield for the militants,” said 56-year-old businessman Andrei Koziyatko.
High-end shops are boarded up, and many other businesses, including insurance companies, real estate offices, beauty salons and notaries, have closed their doors.
“For sale” and “For rent” signs abound where there were none a few weeks earlier. Property values have collapsed, with one-bedroom apartments in the city center selling for $15,000, or one-third of what they cost before.