Ukrainian forces besiege Donetsk

Rebel-held city under heavy shelling as talk of a ceasefire evaporates

A woman carries her belongings as she leaves her house during shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, yesterday. AP Photo/Sergei Grits/AP Photo

A woman carries her belongings as she leaves her house during shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, yesterday. AP Photo/Sergei Grits/AP Photo


Artillery shells slammed into the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk yesterday as government forces tightened the noose around the rebel-held redoubt and called on pro-Russian separatists to surrender.

To the east of Donetsk, government forces and the separatists were fighting for control of the town of Krasny Luch, a rail and road junction through which Kiev says the rebels are receiving supplies of Russian military equipment. Talk of a ceasefire evaporated as Kiev government forces kept up an offensive to crush the rebels.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said if the rebels wanted a ceasefire this meant “raising white flags and putting down their guns”.

There would be no truce while the Ukrainian army continued “punitive” military action, the rebels retorted in a statement.

In Donetsk’s northern district of Putilovka, a building housing the offices of Ukrtelecom telecommunications company was ablaze, apparently hit by a shell. Residents had come out to watch, while one man was putting up corrugated metal to protect the windows of his home.

Mr Lysenko said in the past 24 hours, the military had “continued successful offensive operations, considerably tightening the circle around the capital of the Donbass, Donetsk . . . The [separatist] fighters are in panic and chaos. There are numerous cases of desertion among the terrorists.”

Facebook statement

A statement on the Facebook page of rebel commander Igor Girkin, known as Strelkov (the Shooter), said: “They have been bombing all morning. There are explosions, some close, some far off. There is news coming in all the time by phone. Just now, we had a fire near hospital No 18, a woman has been killed ...”

Accusing the Ukrainians of maintaining “punitive” operations that endangered the people in Donetsk and threatened a humanitarian catastrophe, a later rebel statement said: “As long as the Ukrainian army is continuing military action there can be no ceasefire.”

Ukraine and its western allies accuse Russia of orchestrating the separatist revolt which erupted in April after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. It says Russia is funnelling tanks and missile systems to the rebels. Moscow denies involvement.

Though all sides recognise the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, Kiev and its western allies suspect Russia could use the situation to move its forces into the country.

Kiev said on Saturday it had headed off, by diplomatic means, an attempt by Russia to send troops into Ukraine under the guise of peacekeepers accompanying a humanitarian convoy sanctioned by the Red Cross. Moscow dismissed the allegation as a “fairy tale”.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday Moscow was in talks with Kiev, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations on sending humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine.

The White House said that during a call on Saturday, US president Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel “agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine, even under purported ‘humanitarian’ auspices, without the formal, express consent and authorisation of the government of Ukraine is unacceptable, violates international law, and will provoke additional consequences”.

– (Reuters)