Retreating pro-Russian insurgents dug in yesterday in Ukraine's sprawling industrial hub of Donetsk after government forces scored a string of morale-boosting victories in the bloody battle for the future of the country.
The eastern city has been flooded with convoys carrying hundreds of fighters and scores of anti-aircraft guns from five smaller surrounding cities where Ukrainian flags were flying for the first time in three months.
The rebels erected checkpoints along the main roads leading into Donetsk while the centre of the riverbank city itself saw several restaurants and shops shutter their doors.
The separatists' "tactical retreat" began on Saturday with the fall of their symbolic bastion Slavyansk and continued overnight into Sunday until government forces had reached the very gates of the region's main metropolis.
Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council deputy head Mykhailo Koval said yesterday that soldiers now intended to complete a "full blockade" of both Donetsk and the neighbouring separatist stronghold Lugansk.
Koval said the containment of the cities would be followed by "corresponding measures that will force the separatists, the bandits to lay down their arms".
His carefully-worded comments underscored the dilemma facing Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko as he seeks to fulful his May 25 election promise to quickly end Ukraine's worst crisis since the ex-Soviet state's independence in 1991.