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Ukraine rebel leader asks for cease-fire in key city

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine's rebels are surrounded and ready to agree to a cease-fire to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe," the insurgents' new leader said Saturday as conditions deteriorated in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

There was no government response to the cease-fire statement. Ukrainian troops have made steady advances against the rebels in recent weeks.

"We are prepared to stop firing to bar the spread of the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass (eastern Ukraine)," Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so-called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists, said in a statement on a rebel website.

His motive for offering a cease-fire was not clear but his comments could be aimed at increasing the pressure on Ukraine to allow in a Russian aid mission.

Russia, which the Ukrainian government in Kiev and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels, has called repeatedly for a humanitarian mission into eastern Ukraine. But Kiev and the West suggest that could be just a pretext to send Russian forces into the region — and say about 20,000 of them have gathered just across the border.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a statement late Saturday saying that Ukraine is prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine. But he said the aid must come in without military accompaniment, it must pass through border checkpoints under Ukrainian control and the mission must be international in character.

Poroshenko said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed German participation in such a mission.

In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable.

Artillery reverberated Saturday across Donetsk, home to nearly 1 million people before 300,000 fled the conflict. "The situation is getting worse with every hour," Donetsk City Council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky said.

At least one person was killed and 18 wounded in shelling that hit about 30 apartment blocks on Saturday in Donetsk, he said, adding that about 2,000 residential buildings had no electricity.

Concerns were also rising about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the city of Luhansk, where fighting has been heavier and more prolonged. A map released by the Ukrainian military showed its forces near the outskirts of Luhansk on three sides.

Russian news agencies quoted Luhansk authorities as saying Saturday that the city has been without water and electricity for a week and most of its stores were closed.

Ukrainian government soldiers sit atop a tank Saturday in Donetsk. The new leader of the pro-Russian insurgency said that he wants a cease-fire to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Associated Press

Ukrainian government soldiers sit atop a tank Saturday in Donetsk. The new leader of the pro-Russian insurgency said that he wants a cease-fire to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Ukraine rebel leader asks for cease-fire in key city 08/09/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 9, 2014 11:11pm]
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