35 separatists died Monday at Donetsk airport, Ukraine, “Donetsk People’s Republic” spokeswoman tells CNN.
Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN) — An airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk was closed Tuesday following a night of clashes between government forces and pro-Russia separatist gunmen.
Thirty-five separatists were killed and about 60 injured in Monday’s fighting, a spokeswoman for the separatist self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” told CNN Tuesday.
She said separatist militants control part of the Donetsk airport territory, and claimed that this means they control the airport. She conceded the Ukrainian national guard were also on the airport’s territory.
The Ukrainian authorities, who have also said they control the airport, have not specified casualty numbers.
Government air and ground forces attacked pro-Russia militants after they seized a terminal at Donetsk International Airport early Monday, and the site was under continuous assault overnight.
Although the gunfire appeared to have halted in the morning, the airport is not expected to reopen Tuesday.
A statement posted on the official website of the city’s mayor advised residents to stay in their homes.
The country’s anti-terror office spokesman, Vladislav Seleznev, said the authorities have control of the airport as of Monday.
The preliminary evaluation is that the airport suffered minor damage on Monday, he said.
Experts are working to establish whether all the navigation and other systems are working, he said. In any case, it is not judged safe for airplanes to fly because the separatists have weapons capable of shooting at aircraft and seem willing to use them.
Monday’s fighting marked the worst violence that this key population center in eastern Ukraine has seen since the start of the crisis. It erupted hours after newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’d potentially like to negotiate a way out of the crisis.
Poroshenko, a candy tycoon known as the “Chocolate King,” is also a seasoned politician known for his pro-European Union views.
At a news conference in Kiev, he reiterated that European integration would be his priority. He added that in Sunday’s vote, the President and the whole of Ukraine had changed.
He said Russia needed to participate in bringing peace to eastern Ukraine.
Separatist unrest over recent weeks has centered in the country’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Authorities canceled all flights after separatists stormed and seized Donetsk’s airport terminal early Monday, according to the national news agency of Ukraine, Ukrinform. The separatists ignored a government ultimatum to vacate the premises, Ukrinform reported.
After a Ukrainian military plane “made a preliminary shot,” paratroopers landed and began clearing the airport, Ukrinform reported. In the fighting, a separatist anti-aircraft gun was destroyed, Ukrinform said.
Though the Ukrainian government said it was taking control, CNN reporters who witnessed the action saw separatist reinforcements moving toward the airport in trucks.
Both sides later claimed they held the airport.
Government officials had been optimistic that flights would resume by 9 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) Tuesday, but given the situation, it remains unclear when the airport will reopen.
Seleznev warned in a Facebook post Tuesday that if the rebels do not surrender, “terrorist” targets in Donetsk will be hit by “special high-precision weapons.”
Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov posted on his Facebook page Tuesday that an airstrike had destroyed a training camp in Yasenakh, in the Luhansk region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Moscow would respect Ukrainians’ choice in Sunday’s election.
But, he added, Russia hopes that the new president will put an end to all “extremist activities” in eastern Ukraine and end its “anti-terrorist” operation in the eastern regions.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Ukrainians for casting their ballots Sunday and criticized Russia-backed separatists, whom he accused of trying to block voting.
At a news conference Monday, OSCE Parliamentary President Joao Soares said the presidential election was fair and represented the will of the Ukrainian people, despite major problems in Donetsk and Luhansk. CNN INT`L