Ukrainian forces battle with pro-Russian gunmen

Ukrainian special forces sent into Sloviansk after takeover by armed separatists

LAST UPDATED AT 11:21 ON Sun 13 Apr 2014

UKRAINE has sent special forces into the eastern town of Sloviansk in an attempt to wrest back control from armed pro-Russian separatists. One Ukrainian officer has been killed and there have been casualties on both sides, according to the interior minister, Arsen Avakov. Locals have been warned to stay inside their homes.

Sloviansk was one of three eastern Ukrainian towns invaded by well-organised, armed men dressed in camouflage yesterday. The men arrived in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka in buses, the BBC reports, and immediately took over police stations and official buildings.

The regional capital, Donetsk, has been the scene of a pro-Russian sit-in at the main administrative building for the last week. Eastern Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population and has seen a series of protests since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.

Today, Avakov denounced the armed takeovers as “a display of aggression by Russia”.

"The separatists are shooting to kill without warning against the approaching special forces," he said.

Local governor Sergei Taruta said "all legitimate means" would be used to combat "acts of terror" and restore order across the east.

The armed action by Ukraine moves the situation into dangerous territory; Russia has warned that it will defend the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned of "additional consequences" if Russia did not pull its troops back from Ukraine's border. · 

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