At least 50 people, including civilians and pro-Russian fighters, have been killed during a 24-hour bloodbath in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk.
Photographs from inside Donetsk morgue showed more than a dozen bodies in military fatigues piled up.
Reuters journalists counted 20 bodies in combat fatigues in one room of a city morgue in Donetsk. Some of the bodies were missing limbs, sign that the government had brought to bear overwhelming firepower against the rebels for the first time.
“From our side, there are more than 50 [dead],” the prime minister of the rebels\’ self-styled Donetsk People\’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, told Reuters at the hospital.
Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko told reporters that two civilians and 38 combatants had died, while rebel leaders suggested that the toll among their ranks could be higher, the French news agency AFP reported.
The government said it suffered no losses in the assault, which began with air strikes hours after Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted to elect a 48-year-old billionaire confectionary magnate Petro Poroshenko as their new president.
At least 100 rebels were killed in Monday\’s battle for control of the airport in Donetsk, said a pro-Russian separatist who declined to be identified, according to Reuters. Rebel leaders told the AP that the death toll for their forces could rise to up to 100.
“We failed because their numbers were greater than ours several fold. We seized the main airport building, but afterwards they started shelling, firing from jet fighters and helicopters,” the separatist, who was shot in the leg, told Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has declared Moscow\’s right to intervene to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, demanded an immediate halt to the offensive.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also called for a quick end to the military operation, adding that Russia supports efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis.
Moscow, however, said it would not consider a visit by Poroshenko for any talks.
Ukraine\’s First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema said the "anti-terrorist operation" in eastern Ukraine would continue until "not a single terrorist remains on the territory of Ukraine."
Until now, Ukrainian forces have largely avoided direct assaults on the separatists, in part out of what they say is fear of precipitating an invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the border.
After rebels seized the Donetsk airport on Monday, Ukrainian warplanes and helicopters strafed them from the air and paratroopers were flown in as part of the assault.
The operation came a day after Ukrainians voted in Petro Poroshenko as its new president, and hours after pro-Russian rebels stormed the airport, demanding Ukraine troops leave.
The airport serves a city of one million people, which the rebels have proclaimed capital of an independent "people\’s republic", and where they succeeded in blocking all voting in Sunday\’s election.
The attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Poroshenko from travelling there: he has said his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.
Ukraine\’s election commission said on Monday that Poroshenko won the presidential election in the first round with 54.22 percent of the vote, although a result would not be declared officially until all paperwork was received by Kiev.
Poroshenko made clear his most urgent task is finding a common ground with Russia.
"I really hope that the current election, which was really free, really fair, the level of the activity of Ukrainian people and Ukrainian voters clearly demonstrate that Ukraine are decisive in building up their future. And I think that Russia is our neighbor, and without Russia it would be much less effective or almost impossible to speak about the security in the whole region or maybe about the global security," he said.
Ukraine has been dealing with a rebellion by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.