The ruins of the once gleaming and modern Donetsk airport, site of near relentless fighting in recent days, finally fell on Thursday to pro-Russian rebel forces who then paraded captured Ukrainian soldiers through the streets of the embattled city.
The airport, which had been claimed by both sides, is nonfunctional, the terminal and runways having been destroyed months ago. Nonetheless, it has retained high symbolic value in the continuing hostilities as the government’s last toehold in the city, the largest in the contested territory of southeastern Ukraine.
By dawn on Thursday, it was clear the Ukrainian Army was in a chaotic and bloody retreat, leaving behind their dead in the ruins of the main terminal, a Russian news video showed. Later in the day, in an official statement, Ukrainian military officials acknowledged that they had lost the battle.
In Donetsk, rebels forced a dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers to kneel on the streets near where artillery fire had gutted a trolley bus, killing at least eight people, encouraging passers-by to beat and spit on them.
“Fascists!” one old woman yelled at them. “Who are the terrorists now?”
The renewed violence, in Donetsk and at a remote checkpoint north of Luhansk, another major separatist-held city, threatened to plunge the region into ever-deepening chaos.
Deepening the sense that the region might be descending into a fresh period of bloodshed, Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander in Europe, said that the alliance’s analysts had noted the presence of sophisticated Russian military systems, electronic warfare and air defense systems, in the conflict zone. Previously, he said, the presence of these systems has been associated with an incursion of Russian troops and presaged a fresh round of fighting.