Despite the cease-fire agreement, renewed fighting flared up Saturday in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and government forces, while Moscow sent a second convoy of trucks into Ukraine without Kiev’s consent.
Ukraine’s military operation said in a statement that it had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the government-held Donetsk airport, which came under artillery fire from rebel positions late on Friday.
Despite the truce imposed last week, continuous rocket fire could be heard overnight in Donetsk. A statement posted on the city council website said that shells had hit residential buildings near the airport, although no casualties were reported. A column of three GRAD rocket launchers, all its rockets still in place, was seen moving freely through the rebel-held city on Saturday morning.
Ukrainian authorities also admitted for the first time that they have inflicted casualties on the rebel side since the start of the ceasefire.
Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said that 12 rebel fighters had been killed by Ukrainian forces near Sea of Azov city of Mariupol, where he said they were doing reconnaissance work. Lysenko also said that six Ukrainian servicemen had died since the start of the truce.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been at pains to prove that the ceasefire deal has yielded improvements on the ground in east Ukraine. On Friday, he lauded the deal, which has been riddled by violations since it was imposed last week, as a “fragile but efficient peace process.”
On Saturday Russia also sent a convoy across the border of Ukraine, loaded with what Russian reports said was humanitarian aid, without the approval of Kiev or oversight of the international Red Cross. A similar convoy in August was loudly condemned by Ukrainian officials as an invasion, but this time around Lysenko simply called the move “illegal”. The country’s top leaders have remained silent, underscoring how dramatically the mood has shifted in the Kiev government since a ceasefire deal was struck.
The last truck crossed onto Ukrainian soil early Saturday from the Russian border town Donetsk, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) miles east of the Ukrainian city with the same name, Rayan Farukshin, a spokesman for Russia’s customs agency said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission to the Russian-Ukrainian border said 220 trucks had crossed into Ukraine. Only 40 trucks were checked by the Russian border guard, while the other 180 were waved straight through, it said. None of the vehicles were inspected by the Ukrainian side or by the ICRC.
“Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles,” Lysenko said. “Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.”
The Russian emergency ministry, which coordinated previous humanitarian aid deliveries to Ukraine, could not be reached for comment about the convoy.
In August, Ukrainian officials said that a first convoy of humanitarian aid from Russia would be seen as an invasion of the country, and loudly protested any attempts by Russia to unilaterally bring in the aid. Eventually Russia sent its trucks across the border and into rebel-held territory without the oversight of the International Red Cross, contrary to an agreement signed between Ukraine and Russia.
A representative of the ICRC’s Moscow office said they had not been informed about the current convoy, either.
“We were not officially notified of an agreement between Moscow and Kiev to ship the cargo,” Galina Balzamova said Saturday.
At a conference with politicians and business leaders in Kiev, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that Ukraine was “still in a state of war” with neighboring Russia and struck out against President Vladimir Putin, whose goal he said was to “take the entire Ukraine.”
“He cannot cope with the idea that Ukraine would be a part of a big EU family. He wants to restore the Soviet Union,” Yatsenyuk said.
Despite the tough talk, often heard among Ukrainian politicians as they gear up for parliamentary election, Yatsenyuk made no mention of the Russian convoy.