Ukrainian Forces Strike, Kill Up to 5 Putin warns of 'consequences' By Kevin Spak, Newser Staff Posted Apr 24, 2014 7:47 AM CDT 10 comments Comments A pro-Russian masked gunman seen during his duty on a street in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) (Newser) – Ukrainian special forces, backed by helicopters and at least 10 armored vehicles, have launched an offensive near the separatist-held city of Slovyansk. So far the fighting has been at checkpoints outside the city, where the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said military and police had killed "up to five terrorists." The separatists, however, could only confirm two deaths, the AP reports. The Interior Ministry said the offensive had removed three checkpoints, Reuters reports, though a journalist on the ground reports troops withdrawing from one checkpoint they had taken. A BBC reporter in Slovyansk says all is quiet in the city itself. The ministry has distributed leaflets telling residents to remain peaceful, and is urging them to stay in their homes, according to the Kyiv Post. Vladimir Putin made some ominous comments about the offensive. "It is just a punitive operation and it will of course incur consequences for the people making these decisions," he said. "If the Kiev government is using the army against its own people this is clearly a grave crime." Kiev is worried that Putin is looking for a pretext to invade. President Obama had some harsh words of his own, saying that Russia had failed to abide by either the spirit or letter of the Geneva deal, the Wall Street Journal reports. "There will be further consequences, and we will ramp up further sanctions," he said during a press conference in Tokyo. Putin admitted today that the sanctions were damaging Russia's economy, but said "this is of no critical character." Meanwhile, separatists have been driven out of City Hall in the recently taken city of Mariupol—though how is under some dispute. In a Facebook post, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said "civilian activists" had taken the building without bloodshed, the New York Times reports. But Mariupol's police department tells the AP that these activists were masked men with baseball bats, who stormed in and began beating the separatists, sending five to the hospital.