Ukrainian Flag ‘Is Raised In Rebel Stronghold’

Ukrainian government forces say they have re-gained control of the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk.

The defence minister said Ukrainian soldiers hoisted the national flag over the town after pushing most pro-Russia insurgents out.

“A minute ago the Ukrainian national flag was raised over the Slavyansk city council before a line-up of Ukrainian soldiers,” said a statement posted on the Ukrainian administration’s website, citing Defence Minister Valeriy Geletey.

The town in eastern Ukraine has been at the centre of the fighting between Kiev’s troops and the separatists.

Andrei Purgin, of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, told the AP news agency that rebels were evacuating, but claimed the army’s campaign had left the city “in ruins”.

Ukrainian officials said the offensive was continuing as small groups of rebels were hiding in buildings.

President Petro Poroshenko’swebsite said the separatist fighters had come under mortar fire as they tried to break through government forces’ lines.

The website, citing the newly appointed head of the armed forces general staff, said the separatists had lost one tank and other armoured vehicles.

Earlier, a Ukrainian minister had said the rebels and a top commander had fled, though a rebel spokesman said they were relocating to a nearby town.

The rebels reportedly fled to nearby town of Kramatorsk, but the Reuters news agency said a convoy of about 20vehicles and buses filled with armed rebels was seen driving out of the town.

If confirmed, regaining control of the area would represent a major success in the government’s three-month offensive against the separatists.

Separatists seized the industrial city of nearly 120,000 people on April 6, and on May 30 rebels there brought down a military helicopter killing 14 servicemen.

This week, Ukraine’s ceasefire with pro-Russian separatists expired and Mr Poroshenko said his forces would go on the offensive against the rebels.

But, amid increasing violence,MrPoroshenkoon Friday called for immediate crisis talks with rebel commanders and Russia.

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