By ANDREW E. KRAMER APRIL 16, 2014
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — A highly publicized Ukrainian Army operation to retake control of Slovyansk and other eastern cities from pro-Russia insurgents appeared to falter badly on Wednesday, with one column of armored vehicles abandoned to militant separatists and another ground to a halt by unarmed protesters blocking its path.
The setbacks appeared to reflect new indecision and dysfunction by the interim authorities in Kiev, the capital, who have been vowing for days to end the insurrections in the restive east that they say have been instigated by Russia.
Ukrainian news media reported that pro-Russian militias had commandeered six armored personnel carriers from the Ukrainian Army and driven them to the central square here in Slovyansk, about 120 miles from the Russian border. A crowd gathered to gape at the squat tracked vehicles and at the red, white and blue flag of Russia flapping in the breeze.
About 100 soldiers in unmarked green uniforms, bearing no insignia but carrying professional infantry equipment, guarded the vehicles. They wore twirled around their right shoulder straps the orange and black ribbons that are a symbol of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, and now of Russia’s nationalist resurgence. Some of the soldiers had grenade launchers slung over their shoulders.
Another Ukrainian armored column fared little better when its advance toward Slovyansk, which has been occupied by pro-Russian militants for days, was halted in a village to the south by a crowd blocking the road. By early afternoon, several hundred people were milling around the motionless column of 15 tracked personnel carriers, drinking beer and fraternizing with the soldiers.
Initially, the soldiers tried to clear a path by firing in the air, residents said. One of the tracked vehicles rammed an Opel car parked in the road, shoving it aside. But the crowd did not disperse, and the soldiers adopted a passive stance, turning off their vehicle engines, climbing on top of their vehicles and removing the magazines from their rifles.