Ukrainian government forces have reportedly recaptured the southeastern city of Mariupol, following deadly clashes with pro-Russian activists.
Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Friday on his Facebook page that the country’s army forces have raised the Ukraine flag over the city’s main administrative building.
Avakov added that the government troops inflicted heavy losses on the gunmen during fighting, which erupted after Ukrainian forces surrounded the port city following a dawn attack on the city.
Representatives from the pro-Russia groups did not make any immediate comments on Avakov’s claim that the Ukrainian forces had retaken the city. However, they did confirm fighting was underway in the city and that five of their members had been killed.
Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking parts in the south and the east have been the scene of deadly clashes between pro-Russia protesters and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations in the southeastern regions in mid-April in a bid to root out the demonstrations there.
The violence intensified after the Donetsk and Lugansk regions declared independence from Ukraine on May 12 following referendums in which the regions’ residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Kiev. The vote was called illegal by Ukrainian authorities.
Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to continue military operations in the country’s southeastern provinces.
Poroshenko won the presidential election on May 25 and took office after Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.
The ouster came after months of unrest in the country, which broke out after Yanukovych refrained from signing an Association Agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.