Sat Jan 24, 2015 6:8PM
People walk past a destroyed truck after shelling in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, January 24, 2015. (© AFP)
People walk past a destroyed truck after shelling in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, January 24, 2015. (© AFP)

The leader of Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, has announced the beginning of a major operation against the government-held city of Mariupol.

“Today, we launched an offensive against Mariupol,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Zakharchenko as saying on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, at least 30 people lost their lives when Grad rockets were fired into the city. Nearly 100 people were also wounded.

Zakharchenko’s deputy has denied responsibility for the civilian deaths and the pro-Russia forces’ leader himself did not refer directly to the rocket attack.

However, he described the possible capture of the city “the best tribute possible for all our dead.”

In response to the Mariupol operation, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko pledged to deliver a “full victory” over the pro-Russia forces.

“We are for peace but also accept the enemy’s challenge. We will defend our motherland the way real patriots do,” the president stated.

Poroshenko has called an emergency meeting of military officials over the attack in the eastern city.

Mariupol, the southeastern Sea of Azov city, which is home to around 500,000 people, sits on a highway that links areas under the control of pro-Russia forces in the east and the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea that joined Russia in March 2014.

On Friday, Zakharchenko said pro-Russians would continue to fight for more territory in eastern Ukraine and abandon the peace negotiations with the Ukrainian government.

On September 5, 2014, the representatives of Ukraine, Russia, and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk inked a ceasefire deal in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The truce has been violated on an almost daily basis by both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russia forces operating in eastern Ukraine.

Donetsk and Lugansk, which are mainly Russian-speaking regions, have witnessed deadly clashes between pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations to silence pro-Russia protests there in mid-April 2014.

MR/HSN/SS