Ukrainian government troops were fighting pro-Russian rebels in the streets of Luhansk yesterday and captured most of a town near the eastern city of Donetsk, tightening the noose around that key rebel-held stronghold, Ukrainian officials said.
As the fighting raged, the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, on Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus. The two leaders have not met since early June, despite a rapidly climbing death toll in east Ukraine.
One soldier was killed and four wounded yesterday when a volunteer battalion came under mortar fire before entering the town of Ilovaysk, 18km east of Donetsk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook.
Government efforts to quell the pro-Russian separatists have focused on encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city in eastern Ukraine. Fighting began in mid-April after Russia annexed the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea but in the last few weeks, the government has recaptured significant amounts of rebel-held territory.
Ukrainian troops were also advancing in the region of Luhansk, capturing one neighbourhood in the city of Luhansk as they battled the rebels yesterday on city streets, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council said.
The government has also accused the rebels of killing dozens of civilians in a shelling attack on Monday on a convoy of refugees fleeing Luhansk.
Yesterday Andriy Lysenko, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said that 17 bodies had so far been recovered from the wreckage of the refugee convoy. Six other people were being treated in hospital for injuries, of whom three were in a serious condition, Lysenko said.
The rebels have denied any attack took place, while the US confirmed the shelling of the convoy but said it did not know who was responsible.
The UN said fighting in eastern Ukraine had forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes - a number that has grown in recent weeks as living conditions in rebel-held cities deteriorates rapidly.
With the rebels losing more and more ground, the Kremlin announced the meeting in Minsk, which would also include officials from the European Commission and the Eurasian Customs Union, comprised of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.