Kiev, July 5 :
Ukrainian troops regained control of the key eastern city of Sloviansk from pro-Russian rebels in what could mark a turning point in the country’s three-month battle to maintain its independence, a media report said.
Petro Poroshenko, who was elected president in late May after vowing to quickly resolve the crisis, ordered his forces to raise the national flag over the city.
“Local residents are handing over (to government forces) the weapons abandoned by the rebels,” he said. “This is the disarmament I was talking about when I unveiled my peace plan for resolving the situation in the east.”
Government forces, earlier this week, launched a fresh offensive against the rebels. The separatists lost one tank and one other armoured vehicle as they tried to break through Ukrainian lines, prompting them to flee Sloviansk to Kramatorsk, 12 miles south of the city.
Aleksandr Borodai, a leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said: “Due to the overwhelming numerical superiority of the enemy our men were forced to abandon their positions.”
Earlier in the day, the Pro-Russian militants denied reports of fleeing.
The denial was made a day after the country’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov posted on his Facebook page that a large number of pro-Russian militants had left their base in Sloviansk.
He also said Igor Strelkov, the military commander of DPR, was among those leaving. But it was not confirmed.
Poroshenko Friday expressed his readiness to return to a ceasefire provided it was observed by both sides, all hostages were freed and borders secured by government forces.