DONETSK, Ukraine — Armed pro-Russian separatists overran an airport in restive eastern Ukraine on Monday, a day after voters across the country appeared to have handed a decisive victory to a billionaire candy magnate calling for greater integration with Europe.
The 50 or so separatists claiming to be members of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic demanded that Ukrainian troops withdraw from the Donetsk airport, an airport spokesman told NBC News.
The battle carried on for hours. An eyewitness described bullets and mortar fire and helicopters flying nearby. A representative of the Ukrainian government anti-terrorism operation confirmed to NBC News late Monday night that fighting continued.
The airport terminal has been evacuated by passengers and personnel and no flights were leaving or arriving, the spokesman added.
On May 12, the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk formally asked to be annexed by Russia after a referendum in which it claimed people voted overwhelmingly in favor of breaking away from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, polls indicated that billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko had won the weekend election with an absolute majority.
Poroshenko told supporters at his campaign headquarters on Sunday that the majority of Ukrainians had given him a mandate to continue pursuing integration with the rest of Europe -- putting him at odds with pro-Russian separatists.
His first priority, however, was to travel to the east of the country to end "war and chaos" caused by the armed groups there.