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Ukrainian Forces Hoist Flag Over Slovyansk

Locals fix a window shattered during shelling in Slovyansk.
Locals fix a window shattered during shelling in Slovyansk.

Ukrainian government forces have hoisted the national flag over the pro-Russian rebels' main stronghold of Slovyansk after flushing them out of the eastern industrial city in overnight fighting.

Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey told President Petro Poroshenko in a statement posted on the Ukrainian administration's website on July 5 that the flag had been raised over the Slovyansk city-council building, one of the main buildings where the rebels had been based.

Ukraine's interior minister said earlier in the day that most pro-Russian rebels and their top commander had fled the industrial city of nearly 120,000, which they had occupied since April 6.

Arsen Avakov told reporters in Kyiv, "This morning, intelligence reported that Girkin (Igor Strelkov) and a substantial part of the rebels had fled Slovyansk" amid intense fighting overnight.

Avakov said in a Facebook post that the militias were fleeing to Horlivka, a city of 260,000 about 50 kilometers southeast of Slovyansk that remains largely under the militias' control.

Allegations Of Kremlin Funding

Ukraine alleges that Strelkov is a colonel in Russia's military intelligence unit know as the Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

Both Strelkov and Moscow deny any GRU link despite Western claims that the Kremlin is covertly funding and arming the uprising to destabilise Kyiv's new pro-European leaders and retain control over Russia-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine.

Live Blog: Ukraine In Crisis

Routing the rebels in Slovyansk would be Kyiv's biggest success of its nearly three-month campaign to regain control of separatist-held parts of its eastern region.

Poroshenko's website said the newly appointed head of the armed forces general staff had told him separatist fighters came under mortar fire as they tried to break through government forces' lines around Slovyansk.

The website said the separatists had lost one tank and other armored vehicles.

The news TV channel Rossia-24 said the militia had fought their way out of Slovyansk, and their headquarters has been relocated to Kramatorsk.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and ITAR-TASS
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