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Urban warfare feared in Ukraine fighting

  • A girl says goodbye to her friend, a volunteer, before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine, in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

    A girl says goodbye to her friend, a volunteer, before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine, in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

  • Ukrainians gather to see-off volunteers before they are sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

    Ukrainians gather to see-off volunteers before they are sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

  • Volunteers take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, before being sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov" in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

    Volunteers take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, before being sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov" in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

  • A woman speaks with a volunteer before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine, in  Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

    A woman speaks with a volunteer before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine, in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

  • A girl says goodbye to her friend, a volunteer, before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine, in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
  • Ukrainians gather to see-off volunteers before they are sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
  • Volunteers take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, before being sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov" in Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
  • A woman speaks with a volunteer before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov", during a ceremony to take the oath of allegiance to Ukraine, in  Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Insurgents bade tearful farewells yesterday as they loaded their families onto Russia-bound buses and began hunkering down for what could be the next phase in Ukraine’s conflict: bloody urban warfare.

While the pro-Russian rebels in the east have lost much ground in recent weeks and were driven from their stronghold of Slovyansk, many have regrouped in Donetsk, an industrial city that had a population of 1 million before tens of thousands by some estimates fled in recent weeks for fear of a government siege. The rebels also hold the city of Luhansk.

Despite the government’s desire to minimize civilian casualties, Ukraine’s forces could find themselves dragged into grueling warfare inside the cities in their battle to hold the country together.

“To respond to this phase . . . we evidently must change tactics,” said Valeriy Chaly, deputy head of the presidential administration. He refrained from specifying how.

Insurgents in Donetsk appeared be bracing for a bitter fight as they shipped their relatives out of the city.

One fighter, who declined to give his name, told the Associated Press that not having his wife and young daughter with him would free him to concentrate on the battles ahead.

“It is easier for us this way. It is easier to fight. Your soul is not ripped into two, because when they’re here, you think about war and about your family – if they are okay or not,” he said. “When you know that they are safe, it is easier to go to fight.”

In other developments:

∎ The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia’s lucrative energy and defense sectors, as well as certain banks. The penalties significantly expand on previous American sanctions, which were limited to Russian individuals and companies.

∎ Separately, the 28-nation European Union leaders was expected to decide yesterday night whether to toughen its own punitive measures against Russia, which is accused of fomenting the unrest in Ukraine by supplying the separatists with fighters and heavy weapons. Moscow denies the allegation. “We need to send a very clear message with clear actions,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

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