Discouraged but defiant, pro-Russia separatists vowed to keep fighting the government in Kiev from the largest city in eastern Ukraine, where they regrouped yesterday after being driven out of a key stronghold. At a rally in a central Donetsk square, the rebels were cheered on by thousands of supporters waving flags from Russia and the self-proclaimed independent Donetsk People's Republic. Many urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to quickly come to their aid—but there was no comment from Moscow.
While the rebel withdrawal Saturday from Slovyansk, a city of 100,000 they had held for months, was not a total victory, President Petro Poroshenko said purging the city of the insurgents had "incredible symbolic importance." It was unclear whether the government—after abandoning a ceasefire last week and going back on the offensive—was now winning the fight that had sputtered for months. Analysts say it will be tougher for the government to retake Donetsk, because the city of nearly 1 million has a higher concentration of rebel defenders and Ukrainian forces may try to avoid using aircraft and artillery in the city because of the damage and civilian casualties they can cause. "We will begin a real partisan war around the whole perimeter of Donetsk," the self-described governor of the Donetsk People's Republic told the crowd at yesterday's rally. "We will drown these wretches in blood." (Read more Slovyansk stories.)