BUSINESS

BUSINESS

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Russian 'humanitarian' convoy to Ukraine a Trojan Horse full of weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian 'humanitarian' convoy to Ukraine a Trojan Horse full of weapons

  • Moscow has insisted that the 280 trucks contain only aid for Ukraine
  • Convoy today left city of Voronezh bound for Russian region of Belgorod
  • Kiev intends to halt the convoy before inspecting its contents
  • Convoy now at standstill near Voronezh (185 miles) from proposed crossing
  • West fears it contains military equipment -  denied by Putin's officials
  • Military radar truck seen near the convoy on video has added to suspicion
  • Critics of the convoy have ruthlessly satirised the aid on social media
  • Red Cross: Still needs more information about the aid convoy to support it

As Russia's controversial 'humanitarian convoy' headed for the Ukrainian border today, it faced a barrage of social media attack suggesting its true purpose was sinister.

Moscow has insisted that the 280 trucks contain only aid for the war-ravaged residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

But both Kiev - which said it would not be allowed in- and the West have expressed fears it contains military equipment, an accusation strongly denied as 'absurd' by Vladimir Putin's officials.

Russia says the convoy, which left a military base near Moscow on Tuesday, is carrying about 2,000 tonnes of water, baby foods and other goods.

But this afternoon it stopped in central Russia and is now at a standstill near Voronezh, 300km (185 miles) from the proposed crossing.

 

As Russia's controversial 'humanitarian convoy' headed for the Ukrainian border today, it faced a barrage of social media attack suggesting its true purpose was sinister. Pictured: The lorries in the convoy mocked up as Trojan Horses in an image posted on Twitter

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As Russia's controversial 'humanitarian convoy' headed for the Ukrainian border today, it faced a barrage of social media attack suggesting its true purpose was sinister. Pictured: The lorries in the convoy mocked up as Trojan Horses in an image posted on Twitter

In a social media outburst, critics of the convoy - many of them Russian - ruthlessly satirise the aid. This  mocked up image shows the white trucks converted into GRAD missile systems

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In a social media outburst, critics of the convoy - many of them Russian - ruthlessly satirise the aid. This  mocked up image shows the white trucks converted into GRAD missile systems

A graphic of the truck which was posted on the internet this morning reads: 'Putin's humanitarian convoy. A version'

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A graphic of the truck which was posted on the internet this morning reads: 'Putin's humanitarian convoy. A version'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi,  visit missile cruiser Moskva in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, yesterday

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, visit missile cruiser Moskva in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, yesterday

'No humanitarian convoy of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' warned Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov today.

'Provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.''The level of Russian cynicism knows no bounds,' Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said at a government meeting.

'First they send tanks, Grad missiles and bandits who fire on Ukrainians and then they send water and salt.'

Putin was ridiculed by a Ukrainian site with an image of him addressing soldiers on Red Square in Moscow - with Red Cross flags in abundance

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Putin was ridiculed by a Ukrainian site with an image of him addressing soldiers on Red Square in Moscow - with Red Cross flags in abundance

One user wrote a poem reading: 'Here it goes, the humanitarian convoy, It carries flowers and chocolates, It is followed by brutal convoy, Which carries GRAD artillery!'

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One user wrote a poem reading: 'Here it goes, the humanitarian convoy, It carries flowers and chocolates, It is followed by brutal convoy, Which carries GRAD artillery!'

This photo was posted online next to the caption: 'This must be Grad' as social media users voiced their cynicism about the convoy

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This photo was posted online next to the caption: 'This must be Grad' as social media users voiced their cynicism about the convoy

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Meanwhile Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page: 'No Putin 'humanitarian convoy' will be allowed across the territory of Kharkiv region. The provocation by a cynical aggressor will not be allowed on our territory.'

Other officials have suggested genuine humanitarian aid will be allowed to be carried to rebel areas under the auspices of the Red Cross.

There is suspicion that the white-coloured lorries were hastily repainted from military green before the odyssey began.

Russia said the convoy would cross the border at a frontier post near Shebekino town, into Ukraine's government-held Kharkiv region.

However there remained uncertainty today.

One journalist travelling with the trucks said the organisers were 'waiting for political decisions'.

A massive military radar truck seen near the convoy on a video posted on the web has added to the suspicion over the convoy's purpose with critics seeing it as a Trojan Horse intended to provoke an invasion of eastern Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine. 

This photo appeared on Twitter next to the caption: 'Humanitarian convoy from Russia'

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This photo appeared on Twitter next to the caption: 'Humanitarian convoy from Russia'

This photo appeared on Twitter: 'Shakhty town, Rostov region, 9 August. Convoy of humanitarian help is approaching'

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This photo appeared on Twitter: 'Shakhty town, Rostov region, 9 August. Convoy of humanitarian help is approaching'

In a social media outburst, critics of the convoy - many of them Russian - ruthlessly satirise the aid which follows what the West claims is Moscow attempt to destabilise the region with fighters and heavy arms.

One cartoon image of a Trojan Horse loaded with missiles stated: 'Here it goes, the humanitarian convoy, It carries flowers and chocolates.

'It is followed by brutal convoy. Which carries GRAD artillery!'

Another, also with an image of a Trojan Horse from a Twitter user Mikhail Golub states simply: 'Humanitarian convoy from Russia.'

An image of tanks on railway carriages, a picture apparently taken on 9 August in Russia's Rostov region, is captioned: 'Convoy of humanitarian help is approaching.'

And a white truck from the convoy is shown as if it is loaded with artillery guns under the caption: 'Putin's humanitarian convoy. A version.'

Another loaded with a fearsome weapons system is tagged: 'The white truck - a nightmare of an Ukropitek (Ukrainian + Australopithecus)'.

Putin was ridiculed by a Ukrainian site with an image of him addressing soldiers on Red Square in Moscow - with Red Cross flags in abundance.

Other mocked up images showed the white trucks converted into either GRAD missile systems or Trajan Horses.

Other tweets stated: 'Humanitarian convoy was given 'civilian number plates' this morning. The only thing is left is to put 'baby food' stickers on grenades'

'This must be Grad' - a tweet says pointing to some weird shape covered with tent inside the truck

'Humanitarian Cowboy is it, not a convoy'

A massive military radar truck seen near the convoy on a video posted on the web has added to the suspicion over the convoy's purpose with critics seeing it as a Trojan Horse intended to provoke an invasion of eastern Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine

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A massive military radar truck seen near the convoy on a video posted on the web has added to the suspicion over the convoy's purpose with critics seeing it as a Trojan Horse intended to provoke an invasion of eastern Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine

The video, posted August 10, is called 'Preparations for Humanitarian Operation in south-east Ukraine'

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The video, posted August 10, is called 'Preparations for Humanitarian Operation in south-east Ukraine'

The clip has been watched 730,000 times since it was posted by Roman Tyukov

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The clip has been watched 730,000 times since it was posted by Roman Tyukov

Solider are seen lining up in the video which has posted online and has fuelled suspicion 

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Solider are seen lining up in the video which has posted online and has fuelled suspicion

'Do they mean to rape you so that they rescue you?'

'Yes this is exactly how Russia brought arms years ago in South Ossetia'

'Beware Russians bringing gifts'.

Video clips showed the Trojan Rabbit, the Monty Python episode involving King Arthur and his knights trying to cheat their way into a French castle, as well as scenes from Lord of the Rings.

One comment from Tatiana Koval stated: 'What does it remind me of? No, not Sarajevo, nor Prague, nor Budapest, nor Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) and Sukhumi (Abkhazia). It reminds me of Troy. As Laocoon said - 'Beware Greeks bearing gifts.'

Strange rumours circulated about the convoy.

Dmitry Snegiryov, head of an organisation called 'Right Action' alleged: 'We received information from a reliable source that each Russian truck with humanitarian aid is equipped with a radio-beacon in order to direct the fire of the GRAD artillery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, third left, visit missile cruiser Moskva 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, third left, visit missile cruiser Moskva

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is on his first visit to Russia

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is on his first visit to Russia

Today the party's MPs demanded Russian Ministry of Emergencies show 'bring all bomb shelters in Russia to a state of high alert and readiness'

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Today the party's MPs demanded Russian Ministry of Emergencies show 'bring all bomb shelters in Russia to a state of high alert and readiness'

'When the convoy reaches Lugansk, it will be hit by Russian artillery and National guards of Ukraine will be blamed on this.'

Such an attack would give Putin a pretext to invade.

The last few weeks has seen signficant government successes against rebels who have abandoned a string of towns under heavy fire.

Kiev says rebel leaders, some of whom are Russians and who portray the Kiev government as nationalist and seek union with Russia, are receiving arms from Russia, something Moscow denies.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said the estimated death toll had risen to 2,086 as of Aug. 10 from 1,129 on July 26. The figures included Ukrainian soldiers, rebel groups and civilians, but were 'very conservative estimates'.

'This corresponds to a clear escalating trend,' she told Reuters in response to a query.

Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid sets off for Ukraine

The three-kilometre snake of 280 trucks paused over night after its journey from Naro-Fominsk, a suburb of Moscow

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The three-kilometre snake of 280 trucks paused over night after its journey from Naro-Fominsk, a suburb of Moscow

It was not clear to what extent the figures reflected escalation of the fighting, which erupted four months ago after a pro-Russian president was driven from office by protests, or delays in gathering data from government and local agencies.

State-controlled Russian television presented a picture of fierce battles around the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, accusing the Ukrainian military of indiscriminate shelling of rocketing of civilian buildings. Residents interviewed said they were being bombed everyday and hiding in cellars.

Today the Communist Party, which ruled Russia for almost seven decades but is now in opposition, called for bomb shelters across Russia to be made ready.

The party's MPs demanded Russian Ministry of Emergencies show 'bring all bomb shelters in Russia to a state of high alert and readiness'.

'This matter is not only about Ukrainian missiles hitting the territory of Russia from the Rostov region border, it is about the shelters all around the country being in a very bad state', said MP Sergey Obukhov.

Poland is making a formal protest to the Kremlin over 'scandalous' comments from a top Russian politician that eastern Europe would be 'wiped out from the surface of the Earth' if the Ukrainian crisis worsens.

Controversial ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party, claimed on state-owned news channel Rossiya 24 that Putin had already decided to start a third world war.

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said he had summoned Russian ambassador to Warsaw Alexander Alexeeev to express Poland's anger at the comments by the veteran pro-Kremlin opposition politician.

'Zhirinovsky may be a representative of the opposition, but at the same time he is a public person', said Sikorski. The Polish response 'will not go unnoticed by the Russian authorities'.

'The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Poland, they are doomed,' said the Moscow politician, evidently furious about strong demands for tough action against Moscow over Ukraine from states formerly under Moscow's fist in the Cold War.

'They will be wiped out from the surface of the Earth.

'It is time for the heads of these tiny dwarf states to get their minds back and realise what troubles they are getting themselves into.

'Naturally America is in no danger, is it far away - as for the eastern European countries, they are putting themselves at danger of complete destruction.

'And it is their own fault, as we cannot allow their planes with rockets aimed at Russia take off from their territories.

'We will have to destroy them half an hour before they take off.

'In order to do that we will have to perform carpet bombing to exclude a possibility of any single launcher or any plane being left there.

'So the end result is that there will be no Baltic states and no Poland.'

Ukraine has blasted as 'unacceptable' a visit today by Putin and most of the top Russian leadership to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

An Ukrainian border guard checks passing cars at the checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region  on Ukraine-Russia border, where a Russian humanitarian convoy is planning to cross the border

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An Ukrainian border guard checks passing cars at the checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where a Russian humanitarian convoy is planning to cross the border

A boy looks out of the window of a bus leaving the city from the main bus station in downtown Donetsk today

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A boy looks out of the window of a bus leaving the city from the main bus station in downtown Donetsk today

Pro-Russian rebels stand at a block-post on the outskirts of Donetsk seen through the bullet riddled windshield of the bus, eastern Ukraine this morning

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Pro-Russian rebels stand at a block-post on the outskirts of Donetsk seen through the bullet riddled windshield of the bus, eastern Ukraine this morning

A man inspects his damaged apartment during ongoing fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, in Donetsk

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A man inspects his damaged apartment during ongoing fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, in Donetsk

At least three people have been killed in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as the government intensifies its shelling campaign

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At least three people have been killed in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as the government intensifies its shelling campaign

His two day visit comes amid deep tension over his intentions in eastern Ukraine with up to 45,000 troops stationed in border regions.

Putin is to address the Crimean parliament but also to hold a meeting in Sevastopol with his Security Council comprising his intelligence and defence chiefs on the crisis in Ukraine.

The city is the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

It is Putin's second visit to Crimea since he annexed the territory in March in the face of Western opposition.

Ukraine's deputy foreign minister Danylo Lubkivskyy strongly attacked his decision to go to the peninsula.

'Crimea is illegally occupied. It is unacceptable for Russian leaders to be staying there,' he said.

'This is the distinct and unambiguous position of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.'

 

What's REALLY in 300-vehicle Russian 'humanitarian' convoy heading for Ukraine? Fears it could be cover for 'permanent Russian military presence'

  • Convoy of 280 lorries have left Moscow bound for Ukraine's eastern border
  • Russian media claims they are carrying 2,000 tons of humanitarian supplies
  • But Kiev and Western leaders are concerned lorries may be hiding weapons
  • Ukraine government will demand lorries are checked by Red Cross at border
  • French president Francois Hollande admitted 'strong fears' about the cargo
  • Told Vladimir Putin aid missions must be agreed with Ukraine and Red Cross

A convoy of 280 Russian lorries apparently packed with aid parcels are to be blocked from entering eastern Ukraine amid fears they could be carrying military supplies for pro-Kremlin rebels.

Ukraine said it would prevent the vehicles passing through a 60-mile stretch of rebel-held border because they had not been certified by the Red Cross and had provided no information on exactly what they are carrying or where they are heading.

According to Russian media reports, the white lorries left Moscow this morning carrying up to 2,000 tons of aid - ranging from baby food to sleeping bags - and are now heading for eastern Ukraine.

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Suspicions: A convoy of Russian lorries, including this van, apparently packed with aid parcels are to be blocked from entering eastern Ukraine amid fears they could be carrying military supplies for pro-Kremlin rebels

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Suspicions: A convoy of Russian lorries, including this van, apparently packed with aid parcels are to be blocked from entering eastern Ukraine amid fears they could be carrying military supplies for pro-Kremlin rebels

Journey: An ambulance was part of a convoy of white trucks carrying humanitarian aid along the M4 in Russia's Voronezh region

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Journey: An ambulance was part of a convoy of white trucks carrying humanitarian aid along the M4 in Russia's Voronezh region

Transport: Both Kiev and Western governments have warned Moscow not to turn the aid operation into a military operation

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Transport: Both Kiev and Western governments have warned Moscow not to turn the aid operation into a military operation

Both Kiev and Western governments have warned Moscow not to turn the aid operation into a military operation in a region facing a humanitarian crisis following four months of warfare. The plan now is for the cargo to be taken to a government border in the north of Ukraine - rather than through a rebel-held crossing - where the parcels will be checked by the Red Cross and reloaded on to new vehicles, which will then travel to crisis-hit areas in the east of the country.

'We will not allow any escort by the emergencies ministry of Russia or by the military [onto Ukrainian territory]. Everything will be under the control of the Ukrainian side,' Kiev's presidential aide Valery Chaly told journalists.

Concerns: Ukraine said it would prevent the vehicles passing through a 60-mile stretch of rebel-held border because they had not been certified by the Red Cross

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Concerns: Ukraine said it would prevent the vehicles passing through a 60-mile stretch of rebel-held border because they had not been certified by the Red Cross

Aid: A Russian Orthodox clergyman blesses the convoy of white trucks as they park up in Alabino, outside Moscow

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Aid: A Russian Orthodox clergyman blesses the convoy of white trucks as they park up in Alabino, outside Moscow

Plan: The plan now is for the cargo to be taken to a government border in the north of Ukraine - rather than through a rebel-held crossing

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Plan: The plan now is for the cargo to be taken to a government border in the north of Ukraine - rather than through a rebel-held crossing

On the road: The parcels will be checked by the Red Cross and reloaded on to new vehicles, which will then travel to crisis-hit areas in the east of the country

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On the road: The parcels will be checked by the Red Cross and reloaded on to new vehicles, which will then travel to crisis-hit areas in the east of the country

Long road ahead: Russian media said the 280 trucks had left Moscow and it would take a couple of days for them to make the 620 mile journey to Ukraine's eastern regions

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Long road ahead: Russian media said the 280 trucks had left Moscow and it would take a couple of days for them to make the 620 mile journey to Ukraine's eastern regions

Standing out: The Russian convoy, complete with a police escort, stands out against the other traffic as it passes through Voronezh

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Standing out: The Russian convoy, complete with a police escort, stands out against the other traffic as it passes through Voronezh

Load: The convoy of lorries is reportedly carrying 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid - including 400 tons of cereal, 100 tons of sugar, 62 tons of baby food, 54 tons of medical equipment and medicine, 12,000 sleeping bags, and 69 power generators of various sizes

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Load: The convoy of lorries is reportedly carrying 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid - including 400 tons of cereal, 100 tons of sugar, 62 tons of baby food, 54 tons of medical equipment and medicine, 12,000 sleeping bags, and 69 power generators of various sizes

Russian media said the 280 trucks had left Moscow and it would take a couple of days for them to make the 620 mile journey to Ukraine's eastern regions, where rebel fighters seek union with Russia.

Western countries believe Russian President Vladimir Putin - who has whipped up nationalist fervour in Russia through the state-controlled media since annexing Crimea in March - might be spurred to fresh action since separatists in their main redoubt of Donetsk are encircled by Kiev forces.

Rossiya 24 TV showed a 1.8 mile long line of containers and trucks loaded with crates of water stretched along a road with workers in a light summer wear of shorts and shirts loading sacks of aid.

A Russian orthodox priest marched across the line, spraying them with holy water before they left.

'It has all been agreed with Ukraine,' Business FM radio quoted Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying of an operation publicised with fanfare on Russian TV channels.

Journey: According to Russian media reports, the 280 white lorries left Alabino, near Moscow, this morning carrying up to 2,000 tons of aid - ranging from baby food to sleeping bags - and are now heading for eastern Ukraine

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Journey: According to Russian media reports, the 280 white lorries left Alabino, near Moscow, this morning carrying up to 2,000 tons of aid - ranging from baby food to sleeping bags - and are now heading for eastern Ukraine

Taking a break: The convoy stops behind a police escort along a road near the city of Yelets

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Taking a break: The convoy stops behind a police escort along a road near the city of Yelets

In need of help: Refugees occupy the National University of Donetsk to shelter from the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. An estimated of 1200 refugees from the Donestk region have fled the fighting

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In need of help: Refugees occupy the National University of Donetsk to shelter from the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. An estimated of 1200 refugees from the Donestk region have fled the fighting

At risk: Thousands of people are believed to be short of water, electricity and medicine in Donetsk and Luhansk due to bitter fighting, which has so far involved government air strikes and missile attacks

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At risk: Thousands of people are believed to be short of water, electricity and medicine in Donetsk and Luhansk due to bitter fighting, which has so far involved government air strikes and missile attacks

Defence force: Ukrainian government soldiers from the 'Donbass' battalion pose for a photo in the village of Mariinka, near Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine this afternoon

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Defence force: Ukrainian government soldiers from the 'Donbass' battalion pose for a photo in the village of Mariinka, near Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine this afternoon

Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid sets off for Ukraine

The U.S., French and Australian governments voiced concern that Russia - the sole international supporter of pro-Kremlin rebels in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east - could use the humanitarian deliveries to carry out a covert operation to help fighters who appear to be on the verge of defeat.

Today French President Francois Hollande took up the issue directly with Putin, saying 'he emphasised the strong fears evoked by a unilateral Russian mission in Ukrainian territory.'

Hollande told Putin that any mission must be multilateral and have the agreement of the Red Cross and Ukraine, according to a statement in Paris.

Discussions: Russian President Vladimir Putin (front right) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (front left), are seen during a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi this morning

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Discussions: Russian President Vladimir Putin (front right) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (front left), are seen during a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi this morning

Discussions: French president Francois Hollande said he spoke to Vladimir Putin (pictured left, alongside Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi) to raise his 'strong fears' about the content of the aid convoy

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Discussions: French president Francois Hollande said he spoke to Vladimir Putin (pictured left, alongside Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi) to raise his 'strong fears' about the content of the aid convoy

The pair attended a welcoming ceremony on board a guided missile cruiser at the Black Sea port of Sochi

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The pair attended a welcoming ceremony on board a guided missile cruiser at the Black Sea port of Sochi

Conflict: Both Kiev and Western governments have warned Moscow not to turn the aid operation into a military operation in a region facing a humanitarian crisis following four months of warfare

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Conflict: Both Kiev and Western governments have warned Moscow not to turn the aid operation into a military operation in a region facing a humanitarian crisis following four months of warfare

Hunt: Government soldiers from battalion 'Donbass' search from house to house for pro-Russian rebels in village the village of Mariinka, near Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine yesterday

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Hunt: Government soldiers from battalion 'Donbass' search from house to house for pro-Russian rebels in village the village of Mariinka, near Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine yesterday

With Ukraine reporting Russia has massed 45,000 troops on its border, NATO yesterday said there was a 'high probability' Moscow might now intervene militarily in Ukraine.

Itar-Tass news agency said the convoy of lorries is carrying 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid - including 400 tons of cereal, 100 tons of sugar, 62 tons of baby food, 54 tons of medical equipment and medicine, 12,000 sleeping bags, and 69 power generators of various sizes.

Thousands of people are believed to be short of water, electricity and medicine in Donetsk and Luhansk due to bitter fighting, which has so far involved government air strikes and missile attacks.

The U.N. says well over 1,000 people have been killed in the conflict - including government forces, rebels and civilians.

A Malaysian airliner was downed on July 17 with the deaths of all 298 people on board, after apparently being shot down by rebel forces.

Kiev and its Western allies say Russia, which opposes Ukraine's new leadership, has been funnelling tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons to the rebels for months. Moscow denies these claims.

Stark: President Putin said his country's swelling nuclear programme means no country would even dare 'think of initiating a large-scale conflict with Russia.'

 

Stark: President Putin said his country's swelling nuclear programme means no country would even dare 'think of initiating a large-scale conflict with Russia.'

Vladimir Putin warned the world not to cross him today as he reminded the West of Russia's vast nuclear arsenal and declared: 'It is better not to mess with Russia.'

The Russian president issued the thinly-veiled threat hours after Nato launched a blistering attack on Russia, accusing the former Soviet state of a 'blatant violation' of Ukraine's sovereignty by deploying heavily-armed troops to help rebels.

President Putin responded by comparing Ukraine's siege of two cities held by separatists, Donetsk and Luhansk, to the siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

And he flexed his country's muscles further by bragging that their swelling nuclear programme would prevent anyone from even 'thinking of starting a large-scale conflict with Russia.'

'I don’t think it would come to anyone’s mind today of starting a large-scale conflict with Russia,' President Putin said. 'Russia is far from getting involved into a large-scale conflict ... We do not want it and aren't going to do it.'

He continued: 'Of course, we were always ready to repel any act of aggression toward Russia. Our partners, regardless of the situation their countries are in or their foreign policy line, have to always realise that it’s better not to mess with Russia.

 

Ukrainian army fires during fighting between militants and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk region. Nato  said that it believes that well more than 1,000 regular Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine

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Ukrainian army fires during fighting between militants and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk region. Nato said that it believes that well more than 1,000 regular Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine

'I’ll remind you that Russia is one of the largest nuclear powers. These are not just words, this is reality and, moreover, we are strengthening our powers of nuclear restraint.'

The comments were in stark contrast to his earlier plea to pro-Russian militia to let surrounded Ukrainian soldiers return to their families. Hundreds of Kiev-loyal fighters are trapped in the Donetsk region unable to pass west after rebels encircled their positions this week. Many others have been captured and languish in makeshift jails across Ukraine's eastern territories while others are being made to sweep streets and perform other chores under the watchful eyes of rebel guards.

Residents of Mariupol dig trenches and make fortifications with sandbags as they help Ukrainian troops in organising their defence on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol

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Residents of Mariupol dig trenches and make fortifications with sandbags as they help Ukrainian troops in organising their defence on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol

An Ukrainian soldier digs a trench on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol today. Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia  to halt its 'illegal' military actions in Ukraine

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An Ukrainian soldier digs a trench on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol today. Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia to halt its 'illegal' military actions in Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen repair a part of their MPC inside a military camp in Donetsk

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Ukrainian servicemen repair a part of their MPC inside a military camp in Donetsk

A Ukrainian serviceman sits on a tank while speaking on the phone inside a military camp in Donetsk

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A Ukrainian serviceman sits on a tank while speaking on the phone inside a military camp in Donetsk

And in a statement issued through the Kremlin today, the Russian president told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' in eastern Ukraine to avoid more 'senseless deaths'.

The rebels responded saying they would, prompting the government in Kiev to claim it showed only that 'these people (the separatists) are led and controlled directly from the Kremlin'.

But that was as far as President Putin would extend his apparent benevolence as he blamed the Ukrainian government for the crisis, comparing its siege of two cities held by separatists, Donetsk and Luhansk, to the siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a pile of shells stored inside a hole inside a military camp in Donetsk

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A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a pile of shells stored inside a hole inside a military camp in Donetsk

Rest: Ukrainian servicemen rest at their military camp near the eastern Ukrainian city of Debalcevo, in Ukraine. Mr Putin today asked pro-Moscow rebels to open a 'humanitarian corridor' to allow Ukrainian soldier who remain hemmed in to the region to go home

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Rest: Ukrainian servicemen rest at their military camp near the eastern Ukrainian city of Debalcevo, in Ukraine. Mr Putin today asked pro-Moscow rebels to open a 'humanitarian corridor' to allow Ukrainian soldier who remain hemmed in to the region to go home

Proof: Kiev said Putin's edict proved that separatists were under Kremlin control

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Proof: Kiev said Putin's edict proved that separatists were under Kremlin control

'It is necessary to make the Ukrainian authorities start substantial talks [with the rebels],' he said.

Hours later, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the government is seeking to join Nato and is submitting a relevant bill to parliament to end it's official 'non-bloc' policy.

'The government is entering a bill to Verkhovna Rada (parliament) about the cancellation of Ukraine's non-bloc status and resumption of Ukraine's course for Nato membership.'

Kiev has accused Russian troops of illegally entering eastern Ukraine and, backed by its U.S. and European allies, has said it will fight to defend its soil.

Russia continues to deny this claim.

Put to work: Prisoners-of-war, who are Ukrainian servicemen captured by pro-Russian separatists, clean a street in Snizhne in the Donetsk region

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Put to work: Prisoners-of-war, who are Ukrainian servicemen captured by pro-Russian separatists, clean a street in Snizhne in the Donetsk region

Held captive: Captured pro-Ukrainian fighter sits in a garage at the Novoazovsk border crossing point, in eastern Ukraine

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Held captive: Captured pro-Ukrainian fighter sits in a garage at the Novoazovsk border crossing point, in eastern Ukraine

Mercy: In a statement issued through the Kremlin today, the Russian president told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' in eastern Ukraine to avoid the 'senseless deaths' of trapped Ukrainian troops 

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Mercy: In a statement issued through the Kremlin today, the Russian president told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' in eastern Ukraine to avoid the 'senseless deaths' of trapped Ukrainian troops

But Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen today launched a ferocious attack on Russia, saying that 'despite hollow denials' it was clear Moscow had illegally deployed soldiers to eastern Ukraine to help the pro-Russan rebels seize control of the territory.

He added that he would support any action Ukraine takes with regards to its security, hours after its prime minister announced a move to join Nato.

Nato said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine before releasing what it said were satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week.

Digging in: Civilians dig trenches and make fortifications with sandbags as they assist Ukrainian troops in organising their defence on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol

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Digging in: Civilians dig trenches and make fortifications with sandbags as they assist Ukrainian troops in organising their defence on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol

Battle weary: Armed Ukrainian servicemen comb the area after being shot at by pro-Russian militants at their checkpoint near the small city of Dzerzhynsk, in the Donetsk region

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Battle weary: Armed Ukrainian servicemen comb the area after being shot at by pro-Russian militants at their checkpoint near the small city of Dzerzhynsk, in the Donetsk region

Mercy: In a statement issued through the Kremlin today, Russian president Putin told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' through which to release trapped enemy troops to 'avoid senseless deaths'

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Mercy: In a statement issued through the Kremlin today, Russian president Putin told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' through which to release trapped enemy troops to 'avoid senseless deaths'

A woman rides on the back of a truck holding a flag of Novorossiya, a union between the 'Donetsk People's Republic and 'Lugansk People's Republic'. If implemented, that plan would leave Kiev with no Black Sea coastline

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A woman rides on the back of a truck holding a flag of Novorossiya, a union between the 'Donetsk People's Republic and 'Lugansk People's Republic'. If implemented, that plan would leave Kiev with no Black Sea coastline

NATO accuses Russia of 'blatantly violating' Ukraine sovereignty

Despite today's apparent act of mercy towards the trapped Ukrainian soldiers, Putin also made it clear he has no intention of leaving the region alone.

In an extraordinary address to the 'Novorossiya militia' issued shortly after 1am in Moscow, Putin praised the separatists' 'major success in intercepting Kiev's military operation', repeatedly referring to the region as 'New Russia'.

His striking use of the name 'Novorossiya' - or New Russia - will be seen as implying he does not accept Ukraine's sovereignty of a territory which, in its old tsarist meaning, implies a giant semi-circle of Ukraine encompassing Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Odessa.

If implemented, that plan would leave Kiev with no Black Sea coastline.

Five months ago he annexed Crimea after deploying troops though, at the time, this was denied by Moscow.

Fighting rages near railway station in east Ukraine's Donetsk

'Plain to see': He spoke as President Barack Obama said it was 'plain for the world to see' that Russian forces are now fighting inside Ukraine

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'Plain to see': He spoke as President Barack Obama said it was 'plain for the world to see' that Russian forces are now fighting inside Ukraine

WHAT DOES NOVOROSSIYA MEAN?

This map shows how 'New Russia', now eastern Ukraine, was once part of the Russian Empire

This map shows how 'New Russia', now eastern Ukraine, was once part of the Russian Empire

The word 'Novorossiya' literally means 'New Russia' - an imperial-era term for southern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire.

It is now a term used by Russia ultra-nationalists who want to re-conquer the area.

The region was seized by imperial Russia at the end of the 18th century from the Ottoman Empire and remained under its control until the October Revolution and the collapse of the empire in November 1917.

The term implies a giant semi-circle of Ukraine encompassing Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Odessa.

If implemented, that plan would leave Kiev with no Black Sea coastline.

Now there will be fears he intends a new land grab or the setting up of a new 'statelet' as some separatist leaders have demanded.

Putin's overnight address brought a swift and angry response from Kiev, with interior ministry adviser Zoryan Shkiryak claiming that it amount to Putin officially admitting that 'he has created an international terrorist organisation' called 'Novorossiya'.

'This is for the whole world: Putin officially admitted his direct involvement in terrorism and the establishment of Russian terrorist groups on Ukrainian territory. The cynicism of this moral monster is not surprising.'

He said the evidence should be form evidence for a war crimes prosecution in The Hague.

Obama said Moscow 'has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see'.

His threat of new sanctions came despite the apparent failure of previous measures.

He and German Chancellor Angel Merkel agreed that 'the violence is encouraged by Russia; the separatists are trained by Russia; they are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia.'

With Nato alleging that at least 1,000 Russian troops are on the ground in eastern Ukraine, the US president said that Washington was 'not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem.'

He made clear 'it is not on the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region'.

American envoy to the UN Samantha Power told Mr Putin to 'stop lying' and cease 'fuelling this conflict'.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 2,600 people since mid-April, the United Nations said Friday in their latest report, explaining the sharp increase by fighting in densely populated areas between Kiev's army and pro-Russian rebels.

'At least 2,593 people have been killed in Ukraine between mid-April and 27 August 2014,' the report said, noting human rights violations like abductions and torture are 'committed primarily by the armed groups' fighting the Ukrainian army.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier today, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko accused Russian troops of entering Ukraine, and NATO issued a statement saying that they were tracking well over 1,000 Russian combat soldiers operating heavy weaponry within Ukraine's borders. The announcements follow months of fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine—reportedly supported by Russian troops nearby. Ukrainian government forces had been regaining territory held by rebels in recent weeks, only to have the separatists open up battles on new fronts in the region. Caught in the middle is the civilian population, suffering hundreds of injuries and deaths as a result of massive shelling campaigns. Russia continues to deny direct involvement, even explaining that some of its captured servicemen were in Ukraine "by mistake." Below are images from eastern Ukraine over the past few weeks, as the situation may soon escalate even further.

Ukrainian soldiers detain a man suspected of spying for pro-Russian militants at a checkpoint near Debaltseve, Donetsk region, on August 16, 2014. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

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Servicemen sit atop an armored vehicle as they travel through the steppe near the village of Krasnodarovka in Russia's Rostov region on August 28, 2014. A Reuters reporter saw on Thursday a column of armored vehicles and dust-covered troops, one of them with an injured face, driving through the Russian steppe just across the border from a part of Ukraine which Kiev says is occupied by Russian troops. None of the men or vehicles had standard military identification marks, but the reporter saw an Mi-8 helicopter with a red star insignia -- consistent with Russian military markings -- land next to a nearby military first aid tent. The column was driving east away from the Ukrainian border across open countryside near the village of Krasnodarovka in the Rostov region. (Reuters/Maria Tsvetkova) #

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Local residents watch as smoke rises, during shelling, in the town of Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, on August 27, 2014. Separatist rebels shelled a town in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday, raising fears they are launching a counter-offensive on government-held parts of the region, one day after the leaders of Ukraine and Russia met to discuss the escalating crisis. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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Ukrainian servicemen, who are members of an artillery section, take cover after firing a cannon during a military operation against pro-Russian separatists near Pervomaisk, Luhansk region, on August 2, 2014. (Reuters/Maks Levin) #

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Freight cars loaded with self-propelled howitzers sit in a railway station in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Russia's Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine, on August 23, 2014. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said last week that the alliance had observed an alarming build-up of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine. (Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk) #

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A pro-Russian rebel stands at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Donetsk near a bullet-riddled bus, in eastern Ukraine, on August 13, 2014. At least 12 militiamen fighting alongside government troops against pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine were killed in an ambush, a spokesman for their radical nationalist movement said. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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Smoke rises after shelling in the town of Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, on August 26, 2014. Towering columns of smoke rose Tuesday from outside a city in Ukraine's far southeast after what residents said was a heavy artillery barrage. It was the second straight day that attacks were reported in the vicinity of Novoazovsk, which is in eastern Ukraine's separatist Donetsk region but previously had seen little fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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Bloody footprints on the pavement after shelling in Donetsk, on August 14, 2014. Heavy shelling smashed into the center of Donetsk, once a bustling city of one million. Fierce clashes between government forces and rebel fighters killed 74 civilians over the previous three days in Donetsk, local authorities said. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A local man cycles past a building damaged during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army in village of Semenivka, near eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, on August 23, 2014. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko) #

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A body lies on the pavement after shelling in the town of Makiyivka on August 19, 2014. Ukraine said Tuesday that fighting had erupted in the heart of the major rebel stronghold of Luhansk as government forces pressed on with an offensive to win back the war-torn east.(Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Pro-Russian rebels talk in a field near the village of Khryaschevatoye, eastern Ukraine, on August 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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Ukrainian soldiers park their vehicles on the roadside as they wait for the start of a march into the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on August 27, 2014. Pro-Russian rebel forces entered a key town of Novoazovsk in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday after three days of heavy shelling, the town's mayor said, capturing new territory far from most of their battles with government troops.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A Ukrainian soldier sits atop a self-propelled gun as an army column of military vehicles prepares to roll to a frontline near Illovaisk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on August 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) #

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A building of the Ukrtelecom telephone company burns in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on August 10, 2014.(Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin) #

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A Ukrainian serviceman walks beyond a sight for a gun near the eastern Ukrainian town of Luhansk, on August 26, 2014.(Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #

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A group of Russian servicemen, detained by Ukrainian authorities, attend a news conference in Kiev on August 27, 2014. Ukraine said its forces had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a "special mission" - but Moscow said they had ended up there by mistake. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko) #

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Boys play a game of war between Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk on August 7, 2014.(Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko) #

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A convoy of trucks roll on the main road to Luhansk near the village of Uralo-Kavkaz, after passing the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, on August 22, 2014. The first trucks in the Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev's approval, after more than a week's delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A refugee, Anastasia, from the Ukrainian town of Sukhodolsk cries as she waits for her four-year-old son Daniel, who is coming with her friends from the Ukrainian side, as white trucks of a Russian aid convoy move to the border control point with Ukraine in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, on August 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin) #

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Bystanders watch a fire consuming a school in downtown Donetsk on August 27, 2014, after being hit by shelling. Several civilians died when their car was completely burned after being hit by shell fragments in central Donetsk, the rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine.(Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Volunteers take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine before being sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion unit fighting against pro-Russian separatists, in Kiev, Ukraine, on August 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) #

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A Ukrainian tank moves along a road near Eastern Ukrainian village of Novoselivka Persha on July 31, 2014.(Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko) #

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People hide in a bomb shelter during shelling in the Petrovskiy district in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on August 26, 2014. Several shells hit the local market and nearby houses during a mortar duel between Pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian army.(AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov) #

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A Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopter gunship flies above a military base in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk on August 26, 2014.(Reuters/Gleb Garanich) #

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An armed pro-Russian separatist looks as flames erupt from a gas pipeline after a shelling in Donetsk on August 15, 2014.(Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin) #

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The sky lights up shortly after a shelling in Donetsk on August 14, 2014. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin) #

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A priest blesses volunteers before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to fight against pro-Russian separatists, in Kiev, Ukraine, on August 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) #

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Smoke billows over a residential apartment houses following shelling in Donetsk on August 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A wounded Ukrainian woman receives treatment after shelling in Donetsk on August 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A pile of rubble stands in front of a multi-story building in a residential area in Lysychansk, Ukraine, after it was hit by a missile during fighting between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian rebels, on August 16, 2014. Lysychansk was retaken by Ukrainian army late last month but has seen sporadic clashes until the previous week. After months of rebel occupation and weeks of Ukrainian liberation, the residents of Lysychansk this shell-shocked border town say they hope simply to rebuild their former lives, but fear the return of war to their doorstep. (AP Photo/Vitnija Saldava) #

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Employees unload a truck transporting coffins near graves of pro-Russian separatists at the Sixth Capital municipal graveyard on the edge of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on August 21, 2014. The sign on the cross reads "Soldier number 9". (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov) #

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Pro-Russian rebels escort captured Ukrainian army prisoners in a central square in Donetsk on August 24, 2014.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A man throws an egg at captured Ukrainian army prisoners as they were escorted by Pro-Russian rebels in a central square in Donetsk on August 24, 2014. Pro-Russian separatist rebels force-marched dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war along the main street of the rebel-held Ukrainian town of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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Armed pro-Russian separatists escort a column of Ukrainian prisoners of war as they walk across central Donetsk on August 24, 2014.(Reuters/Maxim Shemetov) #

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A Ukrainian serviceman, at his position during fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaysk, on August 26, 2014. (Reuters/Maks Levin) #

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Pro-Russian rebels ride on a tank near the town of Makeyevka, eastern Ukraine, on August 23, 2014. Hundreds of Russian aid trucks returned home from rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Saturday, highlighting a dire need for long-term assistance to the region where homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by months of fighting. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A dead body lies in a street in the southwestern Petrovsky district of Donetsk after shelling on August 13, 2014.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

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A slipper lies near bloodstains on a street after recent shelling in the settlement of Makiivka, on the outskirts of Donetsk, on August 19, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov) #

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Ukrainian government soldiers walk past a burning field after shelling of their base by pro-Russian rebel artillery near Illovaisk, Donetsk region, on August 14, 2014. Ukrainian forces stepped up efforts to dislodge the separatists from their last strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk and there was more heavy shelling overnight. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) #

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People gather at a temporary tent camp set up for Ukrainian refugees outside Donetsk, located in Russia's Rostov region near the Russian-Ukrainian border, on August 18, 2014. (Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk) #

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A Pro-Russian rebel walks in a passage at the local market damaged by shelling in Petrovskiy district in the town of Donetsk, on August 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov) #

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Local residents cry and hug each other as they sit in a hospital basement being used as a bomb-shelter after shelling in Donetsk on August 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Fierce fighting rages in Donetsk as Ukraine government forces close in on rebel stronghold

  • Ukrainian government has taken a hard line against rebel forces in stronghold of Donetsk
  • Explosions heard in the city, and city official says one person was killed and ten injured in shelling overnight
  • Yesterday, new rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko appeared to call for a cease-fire
  • However today spokesman says conflict talks could only begin in Ukrainian army withdraws from the region
  • 100,000 people are thought to have fled Donetsk in the past week as fighting intensifies
  • More than ten residential buildings, a hospital and a shop all damaged in fighting

Fierce fighting raged in Donetsk today as Ukrainian government forces closed in on the rebel stronghold while pro-Russian insurgents backed away from an unconditional cease-fire offer that they announced just the day before.

Following a string of military successes and with the broad support of the West, as well as many Ukrainians, Kiev has taken a hard line against the rebel forces and has promised it will only relent when the separatists surrender.

Few civilians in Donetsk dared to venture outside tonight as explosions rang out every few minutes and burnt-out buses and buildings smoldered from the night before.

Scroll down for video

Raging: Ukrainian soldiers take up positions during fighting against militants, near Ilovaysk town, outside Donetsk, Ukraine, as government forces closed in on the rebel stronghold

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Raging: Ukrainian soldiers take up positions during fighting against militants, near Ilovaysk town, outside Donetsk, Ukraine, as government forces closed in on the rebel stronghold

Orders: Ukrainian soldiers are briefed by their commander before fighting commences against militant in Ilovaysk today

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Orders: Ukrainian soldiers are briefed by their commander before fighting commences against militant in Ilovaysk today

Briefing: Ukrainian government forces have narrowed the ring around Luhansk and the other rebel stronghold Donetsk, as artillery attacks continue in the region

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Briefing: Ukrainian government forces have narrowed the ring around Luhansk and the other rebel stronghold Donetsk, as artillery attacks continue in the region

Open fire: Ukrainian soldiers cover their ears from the noise, after firing a mortar during fighting against militants

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Open fire: Ukrainian soldiers cover their ears from the noise, after firing a mortar during fighting against militants

In a statement made on Saturday, newly elected rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko had appeared to call for a cease-fire without stating any preconditions.

However, today rebel spokesman Elena Nikitina repeated the rebels' earlier stance, saying that talks on the conflict could only begin if the Ukrainian army withdrew from the region - which Kiev is unlikely to do. She also denounced the government as 'incapable of negotiating.'

Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that the only way for the rebels in Donetsk to save their lives would be to 'lay down their arms and give up.' He said the Ukrainian side hadn't seen the rebels show any real willingness to cooperate.

 

Blast: An Ukrainian soldier watches an explosion during fighting against militants. pro-Russian insurgents backed away from an unconditional cease-fire offer that they announced just yesterday

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Blast: An Ukrainian soldier watches an explosion during fighting against militants. pro-Russian insurgents backed away from an unconditional cease-fire offer that they announced just yesterday

Prepare to fire: Ukrainian soldiers load a mortar as part of their push against pro-Russia militants in Donetsk

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Prepare to fire: Ukrainian soldiers load a mortar as part of their push against pro-Russia militants in Donetsk

Taking aim: A Ukrainian sniper takes aim during fighting. Following a string of military successes and with the broad support of the West and many Ukrainians, Kiev has taken a hard line against the rebel forces and has promised it will only relent when the separatists surrender

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Taking aim: A Ukrainian sniper takes aim during fighting. Following a string of military successes and with the broad support of the West and many Ukrainians, Kiev has taken a hard line against the rebel forces and has promised it will only relent when the separatists surrender

Armed: An armed Ukrainian soldier, his face hidden by a scarf, rides on a military jeep before the fighting in Ilovaysk started

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Armed: An armed Ukrainian soldier, his face hidden by a scarf, rides on a military jeep before the fighting in Ilovaysk started

Duck and cover: A soldier takes cover and puts his fingers in his ears to block out the noise after firing a mortar

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Duck and cover: A soldier takes cover and puts his fingers in his ears to block out the noise after firing a mortar

Support: Ukrainian soldiers carry their injured comrade on a stretcher after he was hurt during fighting today

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Support: Ukrainian soldiers carry their injured comrade on a stretcher after he was hurt during fighting today

'If white flags come up and they lay down their arms, nobody is going to shoot at them,' he said. '(But) we have not seen any practical steps yet, just a statement."

Mr Lysenko added that the Ukrainian military's recent successes in encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine, had bred 'panic and chaos in the ranks of the rebels,' and said the Kiev government had information about rebels 'deserting their posts en masse.'

According to city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky, at least one person was killed and ten injured in shelling overnight, as more than ten residential buildings, a hospital and a shop were heavily damaged in the fighting.

Mr Rovinsky said that he believed 100,000 people had left the city of one million in the past week alone - adding to the 300,000 who were already estimated to have fled. He said at least 10,000 people were without electricity, and that the local government was working hard to preserve access to gas, electricity, and phone service and 'avoid a humanitarian crisis.' More than 1,300 people have died in the conflict since April, according to a U.N. estimate.

Time to flee: A man runs out of a building destroyed by shelling in Donetsk as fighting raged in the eastern Ukrainian city

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Time to flee: A man runs out of a building destroyed by shelling in Donetsk as fighting raged in the eastern Ukrainian city

Fire fighting: Few civilians in Donetsk dared to venture outside tonight as explosions rang out every few minutes and burnt-out buses and buildings smoldered from the night before

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Fire fighting: Few civilians in Donetsk dared to venture outside tonight as explosions rang out every few minutes and burnt-out buses and buildings smoldered from the night before

Injuries: According to city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky, at least one person was killed and ten injured in shelling overnight

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Injuries: According to city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky, at least one person was killed and ten injured in shelling overnight

Damage: More than ten residential buildings, a hospital and a shop were heavily damaged in the fighting, as was this building which was destroyed by fire

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Damage: More than ten residential buildings, a hospital and a shop were heavily damaged in the fighting, as was this building which was destroyed by fire

'This is a real war. It's impossible to live in this city, I've been sleeping in the basement for the past week,' said lawyer, Inna Drobyshevskaya, 48, who lives in the city.

'We don't want Novorossiya (New Russia) for this price,' she added, referring to a term used by rebels to describe the parts of eastern Ukraine seeking independence from the government in Kiev.

Rebel leader Mr Zakharchenko's apparent call for a cease-fire Saturday was met with support from Russia, where Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by news agency ITAR TASS as saying a truce was 'not only possible, but necessary.'

'We believe the question is urgent and there can be no delay, and the issue is under the control of the Russian president,' he said. Mr Lavrov said that Russia was reaching out to the Red Cross and the U.N. to discuss the possibility of delivering humanitarian aid to the region.

After the fighting: A firefighter puts out a blaze which destroyed several buses in the city. Civilians caught up in the fighting described Donetsk as 'impossible to live in'

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After the fighting: A firefighter puts out a blaze which destroyed several buses in the city. Civilians caught up in the fighting described Donetsk as 'impossible to live in'

Cut off: At least 10,000 people are reportedly without electricity, and that a local government spokesman said leaders were working hard to preserve access to gas, electricity, and phone service and 'avoid a humanitarian crisis'

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Cut off: At least 10,000 people are reportedly without electricity, and that a local government spokesman said leaders were working hard to preserve access to gas, electricity, and phone service and 'avoid a humanitarian crisis'

Accusations: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Western leaders have repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and expertise to the rebels, something Russia denies

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Accusations: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Western leaders have repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and expertise to the rebels, something Russia denies

Left behind: A  firefighter stands next to a huge shell crater, while a number of burnt out buses can be seen behind him

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Left behind: A firefighter stands next to a huge shell crater, while a number of burnt out buses can be seen behind him

However, the rebels' request was met warily by government officials in Kiev and in the West. Those leaders expressed concern that the move could be aimed at increasing international pressure on Ukraine to allow in a Russian aid mission. The West says that could be used as a pretext to bring Russian soldiers into Ukraine - and says 20,000 of them are massed near the Russian border with Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Western leaders have repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and expertise to the rebels, something Russia denies.

He issued a statement late Saturday saying that Ukraine was prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine. But he said the aid must come in without military assistance, pass through border checkpoints under Ukrainian control and be an international mission.

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

Time to go: Smoke from the shelling rises over blocks of flats in Donetsk. 100,000 people are thought to have left the city in the past week alone

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Time to go: Smoke from the shelling rises over blocks of flats in Donetsk. 100,000 people are thought to have left the city in the past week alone

Plea: Rebel leader Mr Zakharchenko's apparent call for a cease-fire Saturday was met with support from Russia, where Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by news agency ITAR TASS as saying a truce was 'not only possible, but necessary'

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Plea: Rebel leader Mr Zakharchenko's apparent call for a cease-fire Saturday was met with support from Russia, where Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by news agency ITAR TASS as saying a truce was 'not only possible, but necessary'

On the warpath: Pro-Russian rebels, dressed in camouflage and armed with weapons, drive down a road in Donetsk on a tank

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On the warpath: Pro-Russian rebels, dressed in camouflage and armed with weapons, drive down a road in Donetsk on a tank

Seeking shelter: Donetsk residents sit inside a bomb shelter where they are seeking refuge during shelling

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Seeking shelter: Donetsk residents sit inside a bomb shelter where they are seeking refuge during shelling

On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmer expressed 'great concern' that the humanitarian situation for civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk is getting worse. He said Germany is already working with the ICRC and U.N. agencies to ensure that existing aid is coordinated and gets delivered where it is needed.

He said was 'good that there seems to be basic agreement about the delivery of humanitarian goods between Ukraine and Russia,' but added that Russian aid 'must only be delivered with the express agreement of the Ukrainian government' and under the supervision of international organizations.

In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and would violate international law. Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, 'expressed grave concern about reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian armed forces are exercising for a "humanitarian intervention",' according to Cameron's office.

Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine was the power base for former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled office in February after months of anti-government protests kicked off by his decision to scuttle an association agreement with the EU in favor of closer ties with Moscow. Fighting in the east began in April, one month after Russia annexed Ukraine's Black Sea region of Crimea.

Safe haven: A pregnant woman lies on a bed inside a bomb shelter in a maternity hospital during shelling in Donetsk today

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Safe haven: A pregnant woman lies on a bed inside a bomb shelter in a maternity hospital during shelling in Donetsk today

Protection:  A woman clutches her newborn baby tightly as she seeks refuge in the hospital's bomb shelter

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Protection: A woman clutches her newborn baby tightly as she seeks refuge in the hospital's bomb shelter

Joy of small things: A woman tends to her tiny newborn baby, who appears to be sleeping soundly and unaware of the shelling going on outside the hospital

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Joy of small things: A woman tends to her tiny newborn baby, who appears to be sleeping soundly and unaware of the shelling going on outside the hospital

Worry: Pregnant women sit inside the shelter as the West warned Russia that any attempt to send 'humanitarian' troops into the conflict-torn region would be deemed 'unacceptable'

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Worry: Pregnant women sit inside the shelter as the West warned Russia that any attempt to send 'humanitarian' troops into the conflict-torn region would be deemed 'unacceptable'

Tearful: One new mother cries while holding her newborn baby. Shelling continued throughout last night and intothis morning in Donetsk

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Tearful: One new mother cries while holding her newborn baby. Shelling continued throughout last night and intothis morning in Donetsk

Sleeping soundly: Amid the chaos this newborn was fast asleep, wrapped in a grey hospital-issue blanket and placed inside a metal crib

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Sleeping soundly: Amid the chaos this newborn was fast asleep, wrapped in a grey hospital-issue blanket and placed inside a metal crib