Artillery shells slammed into the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Sunday 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, a possibility raised by a separatist leader on Saturday, 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.
Donetsk, a major industrial hub in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east, resonated with the crash of shells on its outskirts for about eight hours up to mid-day on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday 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.”
Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron also discussed the crisis and said tougher sanctions should be imposed on Russia if it sends troops into Ukraine.
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