Rebels in Donetsk call for ceasefire to prevent 'humanitarian catastrophe'
Fighting raged yesterday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk despite a request from the pro-Russian rebels for a ceasefire to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe". Ukrainian officials demanded that the insurgents surrender instead.
One person was killed and 10 injured in shelling yesterday, Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky said.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, said the only way for the rebels in Donetsk to save their lives would be to "lay down their arms and give up".
"If white flags come up and they lay down their arms, nobody is going to shoot at them," he said. "We have not seen any practical steps yet, just a statement."
Conditions were clearly deteriorating in Donetsk, the largest rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine.
At least 300,000 of Donetsk's one million residents have fled as violence escalates between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists, claiming the lives of over 1,300 people since April, according to the United Nations.
"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 Inna Drobyshevskaya, a 48-year-old lawyer in Donetsk.
Rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko called for a ceasefire on Saturday but his request was met warily by both the Ukrainian government in Kiev and 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.
The West has warned Russia that any attempt to enter Ukraine on "humanitarian" grounds would be an illegal invasion after Kiev claimed Russian troops had tried to cross the border in the guise of aid workers.
Moscow denied the claim. "We have difficulty understanding what the Ukrainians are talking about," Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said.
US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear they would not brook any attempt by Russia to sneak troops or military equipment into Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov phoned his US counterpart John Kerry on Saturday "to underline the need for urgent measures to avert the imminent humanitarian crisis", according to the Russian foreign ministry.
Poroshenko said his government would be willing to accept an aid mission to the rebel bastion of Lugansk, which was reported to be on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.