* Airborne troops take airfield at Kramatorsk
* But they get hostile reception from local crowd
* No clashes, but troops pull back inside base
(Reorders, adds detail)
By Gabriela Baczynska
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, April 15 Ukrainian airborne
troops landed in a town in the east of the country on Tuesday
apparently at the start of a crackdown to root out pro-Russian
separatists - but they pulled back into base after meeting a
hostile reception from local civilians.
The town of Kramatorsk is one of 10 localities in Ukraine's
Russian-speaking east where separatist rebellions have broken
out. The move suggested Ukraine's authorities were going ahead
with a plan for a broad military crackdown to end the unrest
which began 10 days ago.
Separately, the state security service announced a similar
operation was under way in the town of Slaviansk, about 20 km
(13 miles) away where pro-Russia militants are occupying state
buildings to push their demands for referendums on the status of
Ukraine's eastern regions.
In Slaviansk, a Reuters correspondent said there was no sign
of forces loyal to Kiev. A Ukrainian airforce plane flew over
the town but there was no apparent readiness to try to take
control of state buildings occupied by pro-Russia militants.
Local media reported that Ukrainian troops elsewhere in the
region were re-asserting control over traffic on main roads in
an effort to restore Kiev's authority.
The troops disembarked at Kramatorsk from two military
helicopters after an air force plane made what appeared to be an
unsuccessful attempt to land at the airfield where separatists
and their sympathisers had set up barricades at the entrance
Pro-Russian militants in the town itself have - like their
comrades in other localities - targeted police headquarters and
state security offices for occupation, apparently since they
offer a ready source of weapons.
This correspondent heard several shots fired from inside the
air base as a crowd of separatist sympathisers moved towards the
gates after the troops landed, but these appeared to be warning
The crowd of several hundred who were almost exclusively
supporters of the pro-Russian insurgency appeared to be all
civilians and no weapons were visible.
There were no clashes and Ukrainian authorities did not
report any casualties, in contrast with Russia where media,
without citing sources, reported a death toll of at least four.
The capture of the airfield at Kramatorsk was welcome news
for Ukraine's new leaders after a string of setbacks as the
separatists seized control of official buildings with impunity.
In Kiev, interim president Oleksander Turchinov savoured a
triumph, announcing the airfield had been "liberated".
But, on the ground in Kramatorsk, a Ukrainian general who
said he was the commander of the "anti-terrorist" operation had
a hostile reception as he sought to reason with the crowd.
The officer, Gennady Krutov, said: "We have information that
there is shooting going on in here. I came here to clarify that.
There is an anti-terrorist operation going on in here. I am here
to protect you. I address you as citizens of our common
country," he said.
The crowd shouted: "Hands off the Donbass," a name for the
surrounding region of eastern Ukraine, which is mainly
As talks grew heated, the crowd, numbering several hundred,
jostled the general who at one point lost his hat in the
commotion. With night falling, he and his men withdrew into the
Locals, some of them holding the Russian flag, had set up
barricades of sand and tyres outside the gates to the airport
and prior to the troops landing some of them appeared to be
preparing petrol bombs.
Authorities may have told the army not to adopt too robust
an approach in the anti-terrorist operation given Thursday's
four-way talks in Geneva on the crisis.
Russia, taking part in the talks with Ukraine, the European
Union and the United States, has told Kiev not to use force
against the separatists in the run-up to the talks.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Slaviansk; Writing By
Richard Balmforth; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)