Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov stands at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on May 5, 2014. Four Ukrainian troops were killed and 30 wounded in intense fighting around the rebel-held town of Slavyansk on May 5, the interior ministry said. The ministry added that the pro-Russian gunmen controlling the town were using civilians as human shields and were shooting from houses, some of which were on fire. It said there were civilian casualties but did not provide a toll. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY BOBOK
Editor's Note: Below are live updates of Ukraine's counterterrorism operation in eastern Ukraine, mainly in Donetsk Oblast in the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk where Kremlin-backed militants are concentrated.
Avakov: Kyiv to send special police force to Odesa
6:24 p.m. -- Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on May 5 that the Ukrainian government will send a special police force to the port city of Odesa to help restore order after separatist violence on May 2 left 46 people dead.
Avakov accused the Odesa police of failing to prevent the violence, saying that they acted "outrageously, possibly in a criminal fashion."
Odesa Governor Volodymyr Nemirovsky added that a batallion of 400 people will be created subordinated to the Defense Ministry who be paid up to Hr 15,000 a month from a local charity foundation called "Patriot," according to his Facebook page. Its purpose is "quickly restore law and order in the region." – Isaac Webb and Mark Rachkevych
Defense Ministry: Ukrainian forces foil rebel plan to militarize armored train
5:33 p.m. – Ukrainian counterterrorism forces disabled a coal train cars that Kremlin-backed rebels were trying to convert into an armored train by cutting slits to their sides adapted for firing.
“After receiving intelligence confirmation of the terrorists’ plans, the train was disabled for use in subversive and terrorist actions…” reads a Defense Ministry statement. – Mark Rachkevych
Tymchuk: ‘Counterterrorism operation must end by May 11’ illegal referendum
5:04 p.m. – Military expert and blogger Dmitry Tymchuk said at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center today that the counterterrorism operation in Donetsk Oblast must successfully end by May 11, otherwise Russia could invade Ukraine with conventional military.
Kremlin-backed separatists want to hold an oblast-wide referendum in Donetsk to secede from Ukraine, contravening the nation’s constitution. Tymchuk posited that Russia would recognize the referendum’s predetermined outcome and then use it as justification for sending troops to eastern Ukraine. – Mark Rachkevych
As many as 25 separatist casualties in Sloviansk firefight
5:01 p.m. -- Quoting a rebel commander in Sloviansk, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that pro-Russian separatist forces may have suffered as many as 20 casualties in a firefight with Ukrainian troops this afternoon.
The Wall Street Journal quotes the commander as saying "The fighting is still under way. We have managed to stop the enemy from advancing deep into the city but it was with great difficulty. We have a lot of victims—maybe more than 20 people."
Igor Strelkov, one of the separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine, told the Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti that "We lost around 10, including peaceful residents, and 20-25 were wounded."
Strelkov said that Ukrainian troops suffered fewer casualties because "they all have armor." -- Isaac Webb
Presidential Office: Pro-Russians trying to recruit coal miners in east to their side
4:53 p.m. – Kremlin-backed militants in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts are trying to turn coal miners to their side to “conduct anti-Ukrainian actions,” stated deputy presidential chief of staff Andriy Senchenko.
“As a rule, they use middlemen who are former coalminers who were fired
for drinking (alcohol), taking drugs, etc. There are already cases of force
being used against the directors of coalmining enterprises,” said Senchenko. – Mark Rachkevych
Insurgents shoot down Ukrainian helicopter in Sloviansk
4:44 p.m. -- Pro-Russian insurgents shot down a Ukrainian M-24 helicopter in Sloviansk using a heavy machine gun around 2:30 on May 5.
The helicopter crashed into a nearby river, and the pilots escaped without injury, according to the Defense Ministry's website. -- Isaac Webb
Turchynov: Nine roadblocks set up around Kyiv ahead of May 9 holiday
4:35 – Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said that nine roadblocks have been erected around Kyiv ahead of May 9, the day when Ukraine celebrates the victory in Europe day over Nazi Germany, according to an interview he gave to Channel 5.
He expects that Kremlin-backed subversives and separatists will conduct “provocative actions” on May 9. He added they won’t only take place in Kyiv.
“Here we have to be vigilant in every region of our country. There could be subversives or provocateurs. A war practically is being waged against us and we should be ready to repel this aggression,” said Turchynov. – Mark Rachkevych
Interior Ministry: four killed in fighting in Sloviansk
3:16 p.m. -- The Ukrainian Interior Ministry is reporting that four Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 30 more were wounded in fighting on the outskirts of Sloviansk on May 5.
According to a statement on the Ministry's website, separatists used unarmed civilians as human shields as they attacked Ukrainian troops and set fire to nearby buildings.
The Ministry reports that pro-Russian separatists and local residents were among the victims.
Separatists fired at a minibus that was carrying wounded people from the battlefield, killing an officer in a special police unit who was escorting the minibus, the Interior Ministry said in its statement. -- Isaac Webb and Oksana Grytsenko
Malomuzh: Separatist groups are entering Donbas through Crimea
2:38 p.m. -- Mykola Malomuzh, the head of SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) foreign intelligence from 2005 to 2010 told reporters at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center on May 5 that "new [separatist] groups are entering Donbas from Russia via Crimea. They have combat experience; some are members of Russian Cossack groups, some are mercenaries from Krasnodar Oblast [in Russia]. They were brought in to escalate and expand separatist movements."
Malomuzh, who currently serves as an advisor to the Ukrainian government, also said that organized crime groups in southeastern Ukraine are recruiting subversives to destabilize the situation there. -- Isaac Webb and Mark Rachkevych.
SBU: Sniper nests discovered in Donetsk Oblast
2:14 p.m. -- A spokesperson for the Security Service of Urkaine (SBU) said in a briefing on May 5 that members from the elite "Alpha" special forces team discovered and neutralized a sniper nest in a television tower in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on May 3.
Two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in the operation, Marina Ostapenko, the SBU spokesperson, reported.
Ostapenko told reporters that the SBU has identified similar sniper nests in other parts of Donetsk Oblast, but has yet to clear them.
She also said that the SBU had seized a "potentially radioactive" substance weighing 1.5 kilograms in Chernivtsi Oblast, speculating that separatists may have been preparing to detonate a "dirty bomb." The SBU arrested 10 people in the operation, including one who is a citizen of the Russian Federation. -- Isaac Webb
Avakov: Ukrainian soldiers killed in fighting on the outskirts of Sloviansk
1:45 p.m. -- Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has announced that Ukrainian soldiers were killed in fighting with pro-Russian separatists on the outskirts of Sloviansk in northern Donetsk Oblast on the morning of May 5.
Avakov said that Ukrainian troops battled as many as 800 heavily armed separatists.
The minister said militants from both sides were injured. As many as 8 Ukrainian soldiers were wounded, though the exact number has not yet been determined.
Interfax Ukraine reports that Avakov said the separatists fired "large-caliber weapons," and "used mortars and other equipment."
The fighting began around 10:45 a.m. -- Isaac Webb
Photos of separatists shooting at soccer fans in Odesa surface on blog
1:40 p.m. -- Photos of pro-Russian separatists firing pistols and other small arms into a crowd of soccer fans in Odesa on May 2 have surfaced on the blog "http://odessit.livejournal.com/."
Shortly after the photos were taken, dozens of pro-Russian separatists and pro-Ukrainian activists were killed in a fire that engulfed Odesa's trade union building. -- Isaac Webb