Ukrainian Forces Recapture Key Rebel Stronghold Slovyansk

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has released a statement saying that after a night of fighting, government troops have recaptured eastern Ukraine's key rebel stronghold, Slovyansk, from pro-Russian separatists.

According to the Associated Press, Poroshenko ordered government forces to raise the Ukrainian flag over Slovyansk, a city of about 100,000 that has been under rebel control since early April. In a post on his official Facebook account, Poroshenko wrote, "This is a genuine disarmament, presaged by the announcement of my plan for peaceful settlement of the situation in the east."

Speaking to the Interfax news agency, from the Washington Post, Andrei Purgin of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic said rebel forces retreated only to protect civilians:

"Ukrainian forces were trying to level Slovyansk to the ground. What would you do, if you were being thrashed from mortars, artillery weapons, being bombed from the air – and you had three tanks and machine guns?

The departure of militias from Slovyansk is a common step to protect civilians from death and preserve the core of the militia. Our resistance is not broken."

But the AP spoke to a local Slovyansk resident who had a different view:

When the bombing stopped in the early morning, he left his house and saw that all the rebel checkpoints were abandoned. He said there was some damage to buildings in the center of the city, but said much of the rest of the city had been left untouched.

In a post on his Facebook page, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov expressed that this was a significant victory for the Ukrainian army:

"A significant part of the militants fled Slovyansk, sowing confusion among the few remaining. Our battle groups are 'greeting' them along the way. The terrorists are losing, surrendering."

[ image via AP]