Ukrainian forces reclaim port city

The port city of Mariupol was reclaimed by govt forces in heavy fighting on Friday.

FILE: Ukrainian government forces have reclaimed the port city of Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists.Picture: AFP.

KIEV - Ukrainian government forces reclaimed the port city of Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists in heavy fighting on Friday and said they had regained control of a long stretch of the border with Russia.

The advances are significant victories for the pro-European leadership in a military operation to crush the armed separatist rebellion that began in east Ukraine in April and hold the former Soviet republic of 45 million together.

"At 10:34 am, the Ukrainian flag was raised over City Hall in Mariupol," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, less than six hours after the attack began on the city of 500,000, Ukraine's biggest Azov Sea port.

A ministry aide said the government forces stormed the rebels after they were surrounded and given 10 minutes to surrender. At least five separatists and two servicemen were killed in the battle before many of the rebels fled.

Mariupol, which has changed hands several times in weeks of conflict, is strategically important because it lies on major roads from the southeastern border with Russia into the rest of Ukraine and steel is exported through the port.

Regaining control of the long and winding frontier is also vital for the government because it accuses Moscow of allowing the rebels to bring tanks, other armoured vehicles and guns across the porous border.

Avakov said the government forces had won back control of a 120 kilometre stretch of the border that had fallen to the rebels, but it is not clear who controls other parts of the about 2,000 kilometre frontier.

The rebels, who have taken over several towns and cities and want east Ukraine to become part of Russia, confirmed five of their fighters were killed in the fighting for Mariupol.

Avakov said National Guard and Interior Ministry units were involved in the battle, as well as special forces.

A Ukrainian defence analyst, Dmytro Tymchuk, said four Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 31 wounded in fighting in other parts of east Ukraine in the past 24 hours.

The death toll is not known but several hundred people have been reported killed in clashes this year in Kiev and the east of the country.