Ukrainian Gov't Troops Near Rebel City 08/19 06:35
The Ukrainian government has captured most of a town near Donetsk,
tightening the noose around the key rebel-held stronghold, officials said on
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- The Ukrainian government has captured most of a
town near Donetsk, tightening the noose around the key rebel-held stronghold,
officials said on Tuesday.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post that one soldier was
killed and four wounded when a volunteer battalion came under mortar fire
before entering the town of Ilovaysk, 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of Donetsk.
Among the wounded is the commander of the Donbass battalion, Semyon
Semenchenko, who said government soldiers destroyed three rebel checkpoints and
four firing positions, and that fighting continues.
Government efforts to quell the pro-Russian separatist front have focused
lately on gradually encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city.
Volunteer battalions have proven essential in the government offensive
against armed separatists in the mainly Russian-speaking east.
Ukrainian troops were also advancing in the neighboring region. Col. Andriy
Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, told reporters on
Tuesday government troops have captured one neighborhood in regional capital
Luhansk and are fighting the rebels on city streets including the city center.
Fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern
Ukraine has forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes, according to the
United Nations --- a number that has only grown as the humanitarian situation
in rebel-held cities deteriorates.
The situation appears to be particularly dire in the city of Luhansk, near
the Russian border, which has been left without electricity, running water or
phone connections for 17 days. Independent reports from the besieged city are
scarce since the area is very dangerous for journalists.
The city hall said in a statement on its website on Tuesday that Luhansk and
its city center came under fierce shelling overnight. An unspecified number of
civilians were killed or wounded. Residents are standing in lines to buy bread
as food supplies are running out, the city hall said. Authorities also raised
the alarm about a potential outbreak of infectious diseases since household
waste has not been taken out of town for more than two weeks amid sweltering
Ukraine and the West have voiced concern about Russia's military activity at
the Ukrainian border. Moscow has said it can do what it wants within its
borders but invited a mission from the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe to observe two border crossings in a bid to counter
claims that the Kremlin is supplying the rebels with weapons.
Paul Picard, head of that mission, told reporters in a Russian border town
on Tuesday that observers had seen a marked increase of military activity
around the border points over the past week, including Russian helicopter
activity. But he said no helicopters were observed crossing the border.
Picard also said that the observers had seen "groups of young men and women
wearing military-style dress" moving back and forth across the border. No
weapons or military vehicles were observed.
Tensions have been high over the past week since Russia said it plans to
send a massive aid convoy to help people in eastern Ukraine. The International
Committee of the Red Cross, which is expected to take responsibility for the
convoy when it enters Ukraine, was still waiting for security guarantees from
all sides Tuesday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that minister Sergey Lavrov
and ICRC President Peter Maurer agreed to take steps "in the next several
hours" to clear the way for the convoy to proceed to Ukraine.
The ministry quoted Maurer as saying that the ICRC had received the
guarantees from Russia and the rebels but not from the Ukrainian government.
Lysenko of the Ukrainian security council, however, said on Tuesday that
Ukrainian customs officers have not cleared the convoy yet since the Red Cross
has not received the security assurances from the insurgents.