DONETSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government vowed to push ahead Wednesday with military operations against pro-Russian separatists in the embattled east of the country after a big show of strength routing rebels from this city’s international airport.
Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president-elect, said the ‘‘antiterrorist operation’’ against the rebels, whom he has likened to Somali pirates, ‘‘has finally really begun.’’ In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, Poroshenko, 48, said he was in close contact with the Ukrainian interim government in Kiev.
Ukraine’s military on Tuesday used Soviet-era fighter jets and attack helicopters to pound rebels and retake Donetsk’s Sergei Prokofiev International Airport. The rebels, who said they suffered a heavy loss of life in the two-day operation, had seized the airport, the nation’s second-largest, in this eastern city on Monday, a day after Ukraine’s presidential and mayoral elections.
Exchanges of machine-gun fire and explosions continued near the airport Wednesday.
Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s richest tycoons, convincingly won the May 25 presidential election in the first round. He said after his victory that he wants to pursue talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although he accused Russia of instigating the violence in the east.
‘‘Russia’s goal was, and is, to keep Ukraine so unstable that we accept everything that the Russians want,’’ Poroshenko said in the interview. ‘‘I have no doubt that Putin could, with his direct influence, end the fighting.’’
Poroshenko said he intended to call on the United States for military supplies and training. He spoke Tuesday to President Obama and was scheduled to meet with him in Europe next week.
In a commencement speech Wednesday at the US Military Academy, Obama used the example of Ukraine to tout his emphasis on multilateral action. For some critics, ‘‘working through international institutions like the UN, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness,’’ he said. ‘‘I think they’re wrong.’’
‘‘In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe,’’ Obama said. ‘‘But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.’’ Speaking to cadets and top US Army leaders, Obama said the US-led ‘‘mobilization of world opinion and institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.’’
Welcoming Sunday’s presidential vote and noting his conversation with Poroshenko, Obama said: ‘‘We don’t know how the situation will play out, and there will remain grave challenges ahead. But standing with our allies on behalf of international order, working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future — without us firing a shot.’’
In eastern Ukraine, Mayor Aleksandr Lukyanchenko of Donetsk said on his website that the city, capital of a region declared a sovereign republic by separatists after a chaotic referendum on self-rule, was ‘‘relatively calm’’ Wednesday morning.
But in the town of Marinka, about 20 miles west of Donetsk, 11 monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by an unidentified armed group for about seven hours Wednesday after being stopped at a roadblock, agency spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.
He said the monitors, including one American, were released Wednesday evening under unclear circumstances and were escorted back to Donetsk. They had been on their way to another part of the country for security reasons, Bociurkiw said.
Four other agency monitors are still missing after disappearing near Donetsk on Monday night. The agency lost contact with the four — from Estonia, Denmark, Switzerland, and Turkey — when they were stopped at a separatist checkpoint, Bociurkiw said.
Denis Pushilin, a leader of the so-called ‘‘Donetsk People’s Republic,’’ addressed a rally of a few hundred people in Donetsk’s Lenin Square on Wednesday, issuing a call to the region’s miners to join the separatist fight.
Pushilin said the rebels would continue to defy Ukrainian ultimatums to lay down their arms. He also said more volunteers — ‘‘our brothers’’ — were coming from friendly regions and states to Donetsk as reinforcements.