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Ukraine's Army Says It Has Recaptured Most Of Donetsk Airport

The strategically important site has been a focus of fighting for quite some time.

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Ukraine's army launched a "mass operation" that is said to have cleared pro-Russian separatists from most of the airport in the disputed city of Donestk, authorities said Sunday.

Handout / Reuters

Aerial footage shot by a drone shows a multi-story control tower of the Donetsk airport damaged by shelling in this still image taken from a Jan. 15, 2015 handout video by Ukraine's army.

"The decision was taken for a mass operation," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters.

"Our forces managed to almost completely clear the territory of the airport, which belongs to the territory of Ukrainian forces as marked by military separation lines," he said.

Residents in nearby Donestsk, which is the seat of a rebel territory that aligns itself with Russia, reported intensified shelling, Reuters reported. Houses were destroyed, while many homes and business lost electricity during the fighting, according to Sky News.

"It was impossible to sleep — explosions, the walls were shaking. It seemed like they were firing from near the building ... The DNR (rebel) army were firing from our district," one Donetsk resident told Reuters via telephone.

Lysenko said the retaking of the airport — an important, symbolic victory for the authorities in Kiev — returned the battle lines in the territory to the previous status quo. He maintained the operation did not violate the Minsk truce deal agreed to in September, because Ukrainian forces had simply been clearing rebels from their territory.

Despite its strategic importance, Donetsk's airport is a shell of its former self, with drone footage released by Ukraine's army last week showing the extensive damage to runways and control towers.

View this video on YouTube

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This recent report also shows fighting amid the ruins of the airport, in which soldiers and separatists battle it out in close range.

View this video on YouTube

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David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.

Contact David Mack at david.mack@buzzfeed.com.

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