ABOVE: Pro-Russia milita cement their hold on two captured Ukrainian army bases near Luhansk
LUHANSK, Ukraine – Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine have taken two government bases in battles around Luhansk, seizing quantities of ammunition and explosives from a border guards post and taking another installation after National Guard forces ran out of ammunition.
The twin setbacks highlighted the ineffectiveness of Ukraine’s poorly trained and cash-starved armed forces, which have struggled to uproot the mutiny that has engulfed the regions that form the nation’s industrial heartland.
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Officials said in a statement Wednesday that six militants were killed and three Ukrainian servicemen were injured in 10 hours of fighting overnight at the National Guard base.
Rebels seized a border guards base on the outskirts of Luhansk following a nearly two-day-long siege. An Associated Press reporter saw pro-Russian militia carrying crates of ammunition and explosives out of the base Wednesday and driving away in border guards’ cars.
Alexei Toporov, spokesman for the Luhansk People’s Republic defence ministry, said the guards were fleeing and the insurgents did not try to detain them.
“We released them and let them go home, we impeded nobody,” he said. “They left their weapons, and this base is now coming under the control of the Luhansk People’s Republic.”
Ukraine’s Border Guards Service said on Wednesday that the troops from that outpost had been evacuated to unspecified “safe locations.”
There was no immediate report of casualties in the fighting at the border guards base.
The border guards answer directly to Ukraine’s president while the National Guard is part of the country’s police troops.
Ukraine’s fledging government has blamed the military’s recent failures on the administration of the former pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych which, they claim, starved the soldiers of resources and training.
The defence ministry set up a charity account to support the armed forces while volunteers across the country have been buying provisions for the soldiers.
The fighting in Ukraine’s east has escalated following the May 25 presidential election won by billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, with rebels launching an attack on a major airport, shooting down a government helicopter and besieging a number of military bases.
Trying to regain the initiative, Ukrainian troops on Tuesday launched an offensive against pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk.
Two government soldiers were killed and 42 injured in daylong fighting, Vladislav Seleznyov, press secretary for Ukraine’s operation against the rebels in the east, told Ukrainian news agencies. Seleznyov put the death toll of the rebels at 300 but the insurgents rejected these reports.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with Poroshenko in Warsaw on Wednesday and praised Poroshenko for reaching out to the country’s restive east. The White House also said the U.S. would send $5 million in equipment to Kyiv including, for the first time, body armour and night-vision goggles for the use of troops.
The United States already has provided ready-to-eat meals and money for medical supplies and other non-lethal assistance, including clothing, sleeping bags and generators.
In Kyiv, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov, who will hand over to Poroshenko on Saturday, has asked the country’s Security and Defence Council to consider imposing martial law in parts of eastern Ukraine in a bid to stabilize the situation. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Vitaly Yarema was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the council will convene to discuss martial law only after Poroshenko’s inauguration on Saturday.
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Nedra Pickler in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.