December 21, 2014
As Ukraine says close to taking Donetsk, rebels mull counter-attack
Rebels in east Ukraine, which were encircled by government forces, are planning a major counter attack in the next 2-3 days, the new rebel leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, told reporters.
Last week, Zakharchenko - a native of east Ukraine - replaced Russian national Aleksander Borodai as the leader of the self-proclaimed, pro-Russian "Donetsk People's Republic", bringing hopes of a de-escalation in the conflict.
But today, Zakharchenko told journalists a counter offensive was being prepared. He declined to give details.
The Ukrainian military meanwhile said this morning it was preparing for a "final stage" of taking back the city of Donetsk from pro-Russian separatists after making significant gains that have split rebel forces on the ground.
Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Kiev's troops had now cut Donetsk off from the other main rebel-held city of Luhansk, 150 km (90 miles) away, on the border with Russia.
"The forces of the anti-terrorist operation are preparing for the final stage of liberating Donetsk," Lysenko told Reuters. "Our forces have completely cut Donetsk off from Luhansk. We are working to liberate both towns but it's better to liberate Donetsk first - it is more important."
The city, which had a pre-conflict population of 900,000, rocked to the crash of shells and gunfire over the weekend and heavy guns boomed through the night into Monday from the outskirts of the city.