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Ukraine moves to retake Slovyansk buildings from Russia sympathizers

Ukraine’s government has launched an assault on separatists in an eastern town of Slovyansk. The move comes one day after pro-Russia activists seized government buildings in the city amid warnings of a crackdown by Kyiv.

On Sunday, Ukraine's government launched an "anti-terrorist operation" in Slovyansk, a town about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Russian border, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. At least one member of Ukraine's security forces has been killed.

"Units from all of the country's force structures are participating," Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. "May God be with us."

Pro-Russia gunmen seized law enforcement buildings in the city on Saturday (pictured). Government buildings around the region remain occupied by separatists who have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops into Ukraine.

On Saturday, men wearing the uniforms of Ukraine's disbanded Berkut anti-riot squad also occupied police headquarters in Donetsk, another eastern city. Elsewhere, unknown men engaged police in a gunfight in Kramatorsk, near Slovyansk, according to a Facebook post by Avakov on Saturday evening. For days, Ukraine's central government had warned of a crackdown.

"The Ukrainian authorities consider the events of the day as a display of external aggression from Russia," Avakov said in a statement on Saturday.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has promised more autonomy to Ukraine's regions. However, Kyiv rejects calls for an independence referendum such as the one in March that resulted in Russia's annexing of the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea.

Ukraine, the EU and the US consider that referendum illegal, and analysts doubt that Russia would make further incursions. NATO has also warned Russia against such endeavors.

'Incitement and sabotage'

The US has announced that Vice President Joe Biden plans to visit Kyiv on April 22.

"The vice president will discuss the latest developments in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists, apparently with the support of Moscow, continue an orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to destabilize the Ukrainian state," the White House announced in a statement on Saturday.

Russia denies that it has prepared to send in forces, but Ukraine's government believes that its neighbor is trying to look for ways to interfere. According to NATO, Russian armed forces are massing on Ukraine's eastern border, though officials in Moscow have said the troops are there on normal maneuvers.

mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP)

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