Bystanders watch fire consuming a school in downtown Donetsk on Thursday after being hit by a shelling.
Bystanders watch fire consuming a school in downtown Donetsk on Thursday after being hit by a shelling.

Ukrainian President calls for an emergency UN Security Council meeting as Novoazovsk town is firmly in the hands of Russia-backed separatists

Kyiv : The strategic southeastern Ukraine town of Novoazovsk appeared firmly under the control of Russia-backed separatists Thursday and Ukraine’s president called an emergency meeting of the nation’s security council as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.

On Thursday morning, an Associated Press journalist saw rebel checkpoints at the outskirts and was told he could not enter. One of the rebels said there was no fighting in the town.

Novoazovsk, which lies along the road connecting Russia to the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula, had come under shelling for three days, with the rebels entering on Wednesday. The southeastern portion of Ukraine along the Azov Sea previously had escaped the fighting engulfing areas to the north.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced in a statement published online that he was cancelling a visit to Turkey for the inauguration of newly elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and calling a snap session of Ukraine’s security council.

“I have made a decision to cancel my working visit to the Republic of Turkey due to sharp aggravation of the situation in Donetsk region … as Russian troops were actually brought into Ukraine,” he said. “The president must stay in Kyiv today.”

A member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisory council on human rights, Ella Polyakova, said on Thursday she believed Russia was carrying out an invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported.

“When masses of people, under commanders’ orders, on tanks, APCs with the use of heavy weapons, (are) on the territory of another country, cross the border, I consider this an invasion,” Polyakova told Reuters.

A Reuters reporter saw a column of armoured vehicles and soldiers near a Russian village about three kilometres from the border with Ukraine. The column had no military identification markings and was driving away from the direction of the border.

The Reuters reporter said the troops sitting on top of the armoured personnel carriers had dirty faces, and one had a bandage on his face. Meanwhile, one of the trucks had a smashed windscreen and headlights. It was being towed by a second truck.

The new southeastern front raised fears that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea. If successful, it could give them or Russia control over the entire Sea of Azov and the gas and mineral riches that energy experts believe it contains. Ukraine already has lost roughly half its coastline, several major ports and significant Black Sea mineral rights in March when Russia annexed Crimea.

Mariupol, a city of 450,000 about 30 kilometres to the west, a brigade of Ukrainian forces arrived at the airport on Wednesday afternoon, while deep trenches were dug a day earlier on the city’s edge.

In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, 11 people were killed by shelling during the night, the city administration said in a statement.

Joseph Dempsey, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said recent images of a military convoy in eastern Ukraine showed the presence of a variant of the T-72 tank which “is not known to have been exported or operated outside of Russia.”

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