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Ukraine's army launches attack on rebel-held town, raising stakes in Russia stand-off

Published on May 2, 2014 2:21 PM
An armed pro-Russian activist stands guard at a checkpoint near the south eastern Ukrainain city of Slavyansk on May 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP  

SLAVYANSK, Ukraine (AFP) - Ukraine's army on Thursday launched what insurgents said was a full-scale military assault on the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, raising the stakes in the stand-off with Russia, which has vowed "catastrophic consequences" if Kiev stepped up operations.

Gunfire and explosions were heard near the rebel-held town and a spokesman for the insurgents in control of Slavyansk claimed their fighters had shot down an Ukrainian helicopter. "This is a full-scale attack," she said.

An AFP reporter on the scene saw a column of eight armoured vehicles breaching a rebel-held checkpoint just south of Slavyansk.

The raid marked a dramatic escalation in the crisis and came a day after Ukraine's interim president reintroduced conscription amid fears of an imminent Russian invasion.

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