Russian troops are strengthening their positions in eastern Ukraine according to Kyiv’s military, whose control of the terminal at Donetsk airport is coming under increasing pressure as separatists gain ground.
Renovated for the Euro 2012 football championships and now in ruins, it remains a strategic and symbolic government foothold near the rebel-held city, although Ukraine’s army has retreated from the airport in Luhansk.
Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko says Russia is smuggling arms in via aid shipments and that its troops have been identified in Donetsk and elsewhere.
Kyiv blames military intervention from Moscow for the loss of the small town of Novoazovsk which could open a way for the rebels to move on the major port city of Mariupol.
That is where the governor of Ukraine’s embattled Donetsk region, wealthy industrialist Serhiy Taruta, is now based.
Despite Russia’s denials, he has no doubt that Moscow is playing a major role: “A huge volume of weapons unfortunately cross the Russian border,” he said, speaking on a train journey from Kyiv to Slovyansk. “They take them to Ukraine to bring death and destruction and try to annex part of the Ukrainian territory.”
Slovyansk was a separatist stronghold and is now in the hands of government forces. But many wonder for how long – with the tide of the war seemingly turning and the city in the rebels’ sights.