The Ukrainian government launched an "anti-terrorist operation" in an eastern city on Sunday, according to a post on Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov's Facebook page. The operation is intended to drive out pro-Russia militants who took over police stations and other administrative buildings in Slavyansk and two other southeastern cities a day earlier. Avakov said that there have been casualties on both sides.
Among the reported casualties are one Ukrainian officer killed and five others injured. However, reports from the city are mixed: some news outlets claim to have seen no violence at all, while others report Ukrainian soldiers, helicopters, and armed vehicles making their way to Slavyansk. In his Facebook post, Avakov urged followers, "Tell all civilians to leave the center of town -- don't leave your apartment, or go to the window." The rebels were earlier allegedly taking cover behind a "live shield of peaceful residents" and have been reported as demanding either regional autonomy or annexation by Russia.
In a previous Facebook post, Avakov accused Russia of fomenting dissent ahead of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, saying that the building seizures are "the manifestation of an aggression on the part of the Russian Federation." Although the Russian Foreign Ministry denied its involvement on its website on Sunday, it did also warn earlier in the week that using force against protesters in the southeast could mean civil war for Ukraine. NATO is concerned, too: the organization's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Sunday that increasing unrest in the region represents "a concerted campaign of violence by pro-Russian separatists, aiming to destabilize Ukraine as a sovereign state."