Three tanks have crossed the eastern Ukrainian border from Russia, Ukraine’s interior minister Aresen Avkov has said.
The tanks entered Ukraine along with other armour through a checkpoint controlled by rebels in the Luhansk region, Arsen Avakov said.
Ukraine’s army engaged two of them and destroyed part of the column, he said.
Russia has rejected Arsen Avakov’s statement as “another fake piece of information”.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected last month, and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had a “substantial” conversation by phone on Kiev’s plan of peaceful settlement in the east, Ukraine’s [residency said in a statement.
Three tanks have crossed the eastern Ukrainian border from Russia
Petro Poroshenko said that it was “unacceptable” for the tanks to be crossing into Ukraine, his press secretary said.
Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence after holding referendums last month which were deemed illegal by the government in Kiev.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supporting and arming the rebels – a claim denied by Moscow.
Arsen Avakov said the tanks had crossed the border from Russia along with armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces in the Dyakove area of Luhansk region, before moving into the neighbouring Donetsk region.
There, Ukraine’s interior minister said, the tanks headed for the town of Snizhne on Thursday morning. Two then proceeded to the town of Horlivka and were attacked by government forces.
“The fight is under way,” Arsen Avakov said.
“I cannot say about its final outcome, but part of this column has been destroyed.”
Unverified video has been posted on YouTube of a battle tank rolling down a street said to be in Snizhne. The footage was shot from a flat overlooking the street.
A second clip, also said to have been recorded in Snizhne, shows a similar tank passing a roundabout.
A rebel spokesman told Russia’s Ria-Novosti news agency that they were fighting a force of 40 Ukrainian tanks north of the city of Luhansk.
The tanks had been stopped at the village of Makarovo, the spokesman said.
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Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has announced that security forces have launched an operation against pro-Russian activists who seized a police station in Sloviansk on Saturday.
Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that “all security units” were involved in an “anti-terror operation” in the eastern city of Sloviansk.
Russia warned earlier that any use of force in eastern Ukraine could scupper crisis talks due later this week.
The US accuses Moscow of inciting the trouble. The Kremlin denies the charge.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kiev government was “demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country”.
Armed men took over police stations and official buildings in Sloviansk and two other eastern towns (photo Reuters)
The US said there had been a “concerted campaign” by forces with Russian support to undermine the authorities in Kiev.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned of “additional consequences” if Russia failed to make efforts to “de-escalate” and pull its troops back from Ukraine’s border.
Four-party talks involving Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU are due to start in Geneva on Thursday.
On Saturday, armed men took over police stations and official buildings in Sloviansk and two other eastern towns – Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka.
Similar reports emerged from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk of armed men dressed in camouflage arriving in buses and storming the police stations.
Pro-Russian demonstrators also continued their occupation of the main administrative building in the regional capital Donetsk, which they have held for one week.
Arsen Avakov labelled the actions a “display of aggression by Russia”.
Eastern Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population and has seen a series of protests since the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
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Ukraine’s government inquiry found that special police forces were behind the killings of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev in February.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters that 12 members of the Berkut police had been identified as snipers and arrested.
Arsen Avakov presented what he said was new evidence from the shootings on February 18-20, when 76 people were killed.
Months of mass protests led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.
More than 100 people – including police officers – are now known to have died in Ukraine since the unrest began in November over Viktor Yanukovych’s last-minute rejection of a landmark deal with the EU in favor with closer Russian ties.
Ukraine’s new authorities have since signed the political part of the association agreement with the EU.
Meanwhile, Russia – which backed Viktor Yanukovych – last month annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine following a controversial referendum branded illegal by Kiev and the West.
Ukraine’s government inquiry found that special police forces were behind the killings of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev in February (photo Getty Images)
At a news conference in Kiev, Arsen Avakov presented the initial findings of an initial investigation into the mass shootings that shocked Ukraine and the world.
Most of the demonstrators who died were killed on Instytutska Street near the main protest camp on Independence Square, widely known as the Maidan.
Arsen Avakov gave details of one particular episode where he said the inquiry had established that eight of those killed were hit by bullets from the same machine-gun.
He identified Maj. Dmytro Sadovnyk as commander of a unit suspected of shooting dead at least 17 protesters.
“From the side of the Zhovtnevy Palace, a special squad from the riot Berkut police, wearing yellow armbands, opened fire at the protesters. Much of this fire was targeted. We are carrying out ballistics tests on the weapons,” Arsen Avakov said.
Members of the security services’ special unit Alfa are also believed to have taken part in the shootings, he added.
The interior minister also showed a number of slides and photos illustrating where he said police snipers were firing from. He named two buildings on Khreshchatyk and Kostyolna streets, saying other spots were still being investigated.
And he added that the previous authorities had tried to make the inquiry impossible by burning uniforms, dumping weapons and destroying documents.
A number of those responsible for the shootings are believed to have fled to Crimea.
Ukrainian Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives had been involved in planning operations against the protesters.
He added that the FSB had sent “tonnes” of explosives and weapons by plane to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian authorities also said that the killings of the protesters took place “under the direct leadership” of Viktor Yanukovych.
They said arrest warrants had been issued for the ex-president and Oleksandr Yakymenko, Ukraine’s former security service chief.
Viktor Yanukovych – who is now in Russia – has repeatedly denied the allegations.
In a TV interview on Wednesday, Viktor Yanukovych claimed the shooting in February came from buildings held by protesters.