Pro-Russian rebels have seized administrative buildings in more than a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine since mid-April. Below is a rundown of the 16 cities that are at least partly under separatist control.
A Ukrainian offensive was launched before dawn on May 2 to retake the city of Slaviansk, which has been the stronghold of clashes, abductions and separatist activity since April 12, when pro-Russian gunmen seized the police headquarters, the town hall and the Ukrainian security services (SBU) building. The interior ministry in Kiev estimates that 30-50 Ukrainian security services personnel are held there, as well as seven Europeans from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). The town has an estimated population of between 120,000 and 140,000 people.
This city of one million people is the hub of the Donetsk region, which includes Slaviansk, and is at the heart of what separatist rebels have declared is now the "Donetsk Republic". The regional administrative building was seized April 6 and the city hall on April 16. Violent scenes erupted on April 28 when men armed with knives, baseball bats and iron bars attacked a pro-Kiev rally. Separatists seized the city's prosecutor's office on May 1.
Lugansk (or Luhansk)
This city of 465,000 inhabitants, which is also the regional heart of the Lugansk region, has been proclaimed the core of a self-styled "Lugansk Republic". Its Ukrainain SBU security services building was taken over on April 6 by some 1,000 pro-Russian protesters. On April 29 a crowd of hundreds, led by militants, took over the regional administrative building, the prosecutor's office and the local TV station. They laid siege to the regional police headquarters but withdrew when the police chief agreed to resign. The rebels left the prosecutor's office and the TV station on May 2 following negotiations.
Just next to Slaviansk and 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Donetsk, this town of 160,000 inhabitants saw its town hall taken over on April 12 during a rally by more than 1,000 pro-Russian demonstrators. On April 15, a bomb alert that turned out to be false cleared the building, but militants took over the nearby SBU security building. On April 21 pro-Russian militants forcibly took back the town hall. A Ukraine military base lies outside the town and has repelled several attacks.
Gorlivka (also known as Horlivka): With a population of 260,000, the town saw a local police building seized on April 14. On April 30, militants took control of its regional police department and the town hall.
Makiivka: Close to Donetsk and with 360,000 inhabitants, the town hall was taken over on April 13.
Alchevsk: The city of 120,000 people saw its town hall taken over on April 30 by militants, who met no resistance.
Artemivsk: Population 78,000. The town hall has been occupied by pro-Russian activists since April 12.
Yenakieve: The police headquarters and the prosecutor's office taken over on April 13. Population 85,000.
Khartsyzk: Town hall seized on April 14; 60,000 inhabitants.
Zhdanivka: Town hall seized on April 14; 14,000 inhabitants.
Kirovske: Town hall seized on April 14; 28,000 inhabitants.
Torez: Town hall seized on April 15; 80,000 inhabitants.
Kostyantynivka: Town hall seized on April 28; 80,000 inhabitants.
Pervomaisk: Town hall seized on April 29; 40,000 inhabitants.
Stakhanov: Town hall seized on May 2; 90,000 inhabitants.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)