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At least 45 Kremlin-backed insurgents killed in Donetsk; government in control of airport, railway (UPDATES, VIDEO)

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May 27, 2014, 8:39 p.m. | Ukraine — by Christopher J. Miller, Isaac Webb, Mark Rachkevych

Firemen work on the damaged Druzhba Hockey Arena inthe eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, burned by unknown armed men, after they extinguished the fire on May 27, 2014. A fierce battle erupted Monday for control of the main airport in rebel-held eastern Ukraine in a dramatic escalation of the conflict. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY
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Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller is an American editor at the Kyiv Post. He is also a regular contributor to Mashable, and has written for GlobalPost, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent and others. A former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer (Artemivsk, Donetsk Oblast, 2010-2012), he can be reached at millerjchristopher@gmail.com.

Isaac Webb

Mark Rachkevych

Mark has been a reporter for the Kyiv Post since 2006, but joined full-time in 2009. A native Chicagoan where he was the co-founder of the now defunct Glasshouse Magazine, Mark currently is an editor of business news and still contributes stories on an ongoing basis. He is a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, a graduate of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, and fluent in the Ukrainian and Russian languages.

DONETSK, Ukraine – A trip on May 27 to the morgue in Donetsk, the capital of Ukraine's most populous oblast, confirms that the war against Kremlin-backed insurgents – the government would say terrorists – has intensified.

A doctor counted 45 corpses at Donetsk's Kalinina morgue while Sergey Khokholya, an investigator working at the morgue, was able to confirm that 33 were rebel fighters. “Their wounds vary. Some were clearly caught in an explosion, some have shrapnel wounds, some gunshot wounds. All the 33 are Donetsk Republic fighters,” he said, adding that there were at least two were civilian casualties - one man and one woman.

Later in the day, pro-Russian separatist leaders put the number at about 50 people dead - admitting, however, that the total could be as high as 100 - in the May 26-27 fighting, with numerous injuries. Donetsk Mayor Oleskandr Lukyanchenko said that, of at least 43 injured in hospitals, eight are residents of Russia, eight are from Donetsk, others are from Russia-annexed Crimea, while the the home locations of 18 others haven't been established. 

Whatever the number of casualties, the bloodshed is escalating as Ukraine's government – including its military and police – are more aggressively confronting the separatist threat. The fierce gun battles took place on May 26 and May 27 as Ukraine's government regained control of the Donetsk International Airport and nearby railway station. The next task is to secure the oblast, home to 10 percent of Ukraine's population, from the imported "terrorists" as the government calls the insurgents.

Donetsk looked like a ghost town as dusk fell on May 27, with numerous businesses and residents heeding government officials' call to shut down and stay at home in the increasingly dangerous environment. Separatist leaders, having earlier declared martial law in Donetsk, imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

One of the at least 45 Kremlin-backed insurgents killed in Donetsk as Ukraine's armed forces try to regain control of the separatist-infiltrated city.

Government-installed barricades around the airport prevented journalists from getting a close look, and flights are not expected to resume until May 28 at the earliest, according to airport officials. That seems unlikely to happen, however, as much of the airport's terminal was decimated in the fighting. A video shows its exterior in shambles.

Many of the killed Russian-backed fighters were riding together in a truck when they were struck from above by artillery or rocket-propelled grenades fired from a Ukrainian army helicopter. The truck was destroyed and flipped on its side. The truck bed contained pools of blood and bloody bandages were strewn about the area surrounding the truck, indicating that rebel fighters aboard had been previously wounded.

Vladyslav Seleznyov, the Ukrainian government spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation, confirmed during a May 27 press briefing that many armed "terrorists," were killed, but he provided no official number. 

The remnants of a truck allegedly carrying injured Kremlin-backed insurgents from a battle on May 26 at the Donetsk International Airport. At least 45 separatists have been killed in two days of fighting in the eastern capital.

Seleznyov confirmed the presence of foreign fighters, many from the Caucasus region of Russia.

Ukraine's military launched airstrikes on May 26 against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk. Heavy shelling was heard from the airport and dense black smoke rose in the air. 

Around Sloviansk, a city in Donetsk Oblast under control of separatists, Seleznyov said that the Russian-backed rebels were shooting into residential buildings as well as shelling the residences and then blaming the violence on Ukrainian forces, who have been restrained in their attacks to avoid civilian deaths. 

He said that the separatists attacked a bread factory on Artem Street and a psychiatric hospital in Sloviansk.

Another of the Kremlin-backed separatists killed. He was wearing a St. George's ribbon, a symbol of Soviet victory in World War II that has been appropriated by the insurgents seeking to establish independent states out of Ukraine's heavily populated eastern oblasts.

Seleznyov said that he had no information about the fighting in Mariupol. The irregular pro-Ukrainian Azov Battalion is not officially part of the government's anti-terrorist operation, he said.

Seleznyov also said he did not think it would be necessary to require states of emergency in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where separatist fighting is also taking place, in order to restore order.

Morgue workers in Donetsk are overwhelmed with at least 33 casualties from the war between the Ukrainian military and Kremlin-backed separatists on May 26-27.

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action, as well as Ukraine Media Project, managed by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development. The content is independent of these organizations and is solely the responsibility of the Kyiv Post. 

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