Bus carnage and tank battles smash hopes for Ukraine peace

Killing continues despite foreign ministers’ claims to have made some progress in talks

Captive Ukrainian soldiers kneel as the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko (left) stands   at a bus stop where 13 people were killed when a  bus was shelled.   Photograph: Aleksander Gayuk/AFP/Getty Images

Captive Ukrainian soldiers kneel as the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko (left) stands at a bus stop where 13 people were killed when a bus was shelled. Photograph: Aleksander Gayuk/AFP/Getty Images

 

At least eight bus passengers were killed in a missile strike yesterday in eastern Ukraine, as agreement between top diplomats on steps to reduce fighting in the region did nothing to stem the bloodshed.

Russian-backed rebels said a Ukrainian “sabotage group” fired the mortar or shell that hit a trolleybus in separatist-held Donetsk, while Kiev blamed the militants and insisted its forces were too far from the area to be responsible.

Ukrainian officials said eight passengers died, but insurgents claimed 13 were killed – the same number that perished last week in a missile strike on a bus near the town of Volnovakha, which each side also blames on the other.

“We are shaken by the monstrous new crime in Donetsk where . . . dozens of peaceful civilians died and received injuries as a result of Ukrainian forces shelling a bus stop,” said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. “It is becoming obvious that human casualties won’t stop ‘the party of war’ in Kiev and its foreign sponsors.”

Lavrov’s meeting

“The most important decision is strong support for the urgent withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line,” Mr Lavrov said afterwards, referring to the line that should divide government and rebel forces according to a deal signed last September.

“If that withdrawal takes place,” Mr Lavrov said, “we can speak about major de-escalation of the current conflict.”

Soon after the bus was hit, however, Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said he would “move the front line” further away from the city “so Donetsk can’t be shelled”.

Mr Zakharchenko also invited Donetsk residents to vent their anger on captured Ukrainian troops who were paraded through the streets of the city and had punches, objects and abuse hurled at them.

Ukraine’s military said 10 servicemen were killed overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, six of them at the Donetsk airport complex now under almost complete rebel control after months of fighting.

Tanks destroyed

Petro Poroshenko

“Real tank battles took place. The Ukrainian armed forces won these battles,” Mr Poroshenko told national security officials last night.

On Wednesday, he claimed the rebels were now supported by 9,000 troops and hundreds of tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces from Russia.

United States and Nato officials have not given figures, but they concur Russian military personnel and heavy weapons are playing a key role in Ukraine. The conflict has badly damaged East-West relations, and German chancellor Angela Merkel said economic sanctions against Russia must remain in place. She called Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March “a violation of the values that created a peaceful order in Europe after the second World War, namely the acceptance of borders and respect of territorial integrity”.