DONETSK, Ukraine — Anti-government forces ambushed a Ukrainian army convoy outside a village west of Kramatorsk today, further intensifying tensions in Ukraine’s restive eastern regions.
The attack represented a significant tactical escalation, with the pro-Russian militia venturing for the first time outside its strongholds to disrupt Ukrainian military movements along routes it uses to supply the positions essential to what it calls a blockade of armed rebel areas.
The fighting left six Ukrainian soldiers dead and eight wounded, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense, which labeled the episode a terrorist attack. A rebel commander in nearby Slovyansk reported one dead and two wounded among the militiamen, and claimed the rebel unit involved had killed up to 30 Ukrainian soldiers.
Neither casualty toll could be independently confirmed.
The clash was the first skirmish outside Kramatorsk or Slovyansk since a referendum carried out Sunday by the militia’s political wing, the Donetsk People’s Republic, led the region to declare its independence and appeal to Russia for annexation.
After the vote, separatist leaders also called the Ukrainian forces occupiers and indicated that their continued presence would lead only to further armed confrontation.
“If they don’t leave our land on their own, we will drive them out,” the self-appointed mayor of Slovyansk, Vyachislav Ponomaryov, said late Sunday night.
The Ukrainian government said that rebels had used grenade launchers in the ambush. In recent weeks, some rebels in Slovyansk have been openly carrying Kalashnikov rifles with 40 mm under-barrel grenade launchers and ammunition pouches often heavy with high-explosive 40 mm grenades.