A fierce battle erupted Monday for control of the main airport in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, just hours after president-elect Petro Poroshenko vowed he would not let the country become another Somalia.
Ukrainian fighter jets and combat helicopters struck the terminal building at Donetsk airport to try to dislodge separatist gunmen who seized the complex, triggering heavy gun battles.
It was the most forceful action by the Kiev government in its battle to crush a bloody pro-Moscow insurgency that has raged in the industrial east since early April, threatening to tear apart the former Soviet state.
Plumes of thick black smoke rose from the airport complex as the sound of explosions and heavy gunfire rang out throughout much of the day, AFP correspondents at the scene said.
Scores of gunmen had stormed the airport in an apparent show of defiance against Poroshenko, the Ukrainian magnate who claimed a resounding victory in Sunday's presidential poll.
Ukraine's election chief confirmed Poroshenko as the president, saying his 54 percent of the vote and 41-point lead over the second-place holder were unassailable with only a tenth of the ballots left to count.
"We can now already draw a fairly important conclusion: there will be no need for a second round. On May 25, 2014, a new president was elected in Ukraine," election chief Mykhailo Okhendovskyi said.
Poroshenko has moved swiftly to stamp his authority as Ukraine's new leader, and the country's former master Moscow said Monday it was ready to work with him.
The 48-year-old billionaire and former cabinet minister said Ukraine would press on with its offensive against the insurgents who now control about a dozen cities and towns, despite Russia warning it would be a "colossal mistake."
"There are no talks with terrorists," said the centrist pro-Western tycoon known as the chocolate king for his confectionary empire.
"Their goal is to turn Donbass (east Ukraine) into Somalia. I will not let anyone do this to our state and I hope that Russia will support my approach."
Sunday's vote was seen as the most important in Ukraine's post-Soviet history as it fights to stay united after months of turmoil and avert economic collapse.
But the insurgency, which has already cost at least 150 lives, thwarted polling in much of the east and rebels have defiantly refused to recognize the result.