In the first Ukrainian military action against the pro-Russian uprising in the east of the country, special forces have recaptured a small airport that had been occupied by militiamen, the government said.

Heavy gunfire rang out at the airport near the town of Kramatorsk. Russian state television reported four to 11 people had been killed, but there was no independent confirmation of any casualties. Much of the shooting appeared to have been warning shots fired into the air.

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Members of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry walk past an MI-8 military helicopter at a checkpoint near the town of Izium in eastern UkraineReuters
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A Ukrainian soldier stands near armoured personnel carriers at a checkpoint near the town of Izium, eastern UkraineReuters

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, had earlier announced an "anti-terrorist operation" against insurgents who have seized control of numerous buildings in the east of the country.

Armed pro-Russian militias are occupying government, police and other administrative buildings in at least nine cities in the Russian-speaking region of the country around the major industrial city of Donetsk. They are demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia.

The central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, and many local security forces have switched over to their side.

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An armed man gestures in front of the police headquarters in Slaviansk, eastern UkraineReuters
slaviansk pistol
A pro-Russian gunman sits near the police headquarters in SlavianskReuters
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A boy shakes hands with a pro-Russian gunman outside the mayor's office in SlavianskReuters
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A masked Pro-Russia supporter stands guard outside the headquarters of Ukraine's security agency building in the eastern Ukrainian city of LuhanskAFP
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Pro-Russian protesters detain a man who reportedly tried to sell a pistol near the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, in eastern UkraineReuters
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Pro-Russian protesters attend a rally in front of the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, eastern UkraineReuters
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A pro-Russian supporter eats on a street near the seized office of the SBU state security service in LuhanskReuters
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A Russian flag surrounded by barbed wire flutters at a barricade outside a regional government building in DonetskReuters
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A female member of a "Maidan" self-defence unit stands guard in front of the Ukrainian parliament building in KievReuters