TIME ukraine conflict

9 Dead as Shelling Increases in Eastern Ukraine

A man cries as he inspects debris while standing outside his damaged house, which according to locals was caused by recent shelling, in Donetsk, Ukraine, August 17, 2015. Fighting flared between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in two separate parts of eastern Ukraine overnight with several civilians killed by shelling, Ukrainian police and separatist sources said on Monday. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Alexander Eermochenko—Reuters A man cries as he inspects debris while standing outside his damaged house, which according to locals was caused by recent shelling, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Aug. 17, 2015.

The conflict has killed an estimated 6,400 people since April 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — A night-long artillery exchange in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russia-backed rebels claimed nine lives on Monday, casting doubt on the already shaky cease-fire.

The fighting between Russia-backed separatist rebels and Ukrainian government troops in the country’s industrial heartland eased after a truce was signed in February. But despite pledges to withdraw heavy caliber weapons from the front lines, both sides seem to be engaged in recent heavy fighting.

The conflict has killed an estimated 6,400 people since April 2014, according to the United Nations.

The rebel mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency said artillery fire killed three people in a front line town of Horlivka and two in the rebel capital of Donetsk. Ukrainian officials reported two civilian deaths on their side, in a suburb of Mariupol on the Black Sea. The Ukrainian Security and Defense Council also reported two troops killed and six injured overnight.

The shelling on Monday came after failed talks between Ukraine, the rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which were supposed to agree on further steps to withdraw weaponry.

An Associated Press reporter in Donetsk witnessed weaponry on the move in the past few days while salvos of incoming and outgoing Grad rockets were frequently heard.

President Vladimir Putin, who met representatives of various ethnic communities in the Russia-occupied Crimea on Monday, did not comment on the recent shelling. But he used the opportunity to claim that the current Ukrainian government is not free to make its own decisions because the country “is being managed from the outside.”

Putin has alleged that Kiev’s decisions are heavily influenced by Western powers including the United States.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday accused the Ukrainian government in Kiev of derailing the recent talks on withdrawal. Lavrov said the uptick in shelling could be the beginning of a new Ukrainian offensive.

“We’re worried about events of the recent days, which look very much like preparation for fresh hostilities,” he said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that there was no mistaking who was responsible for the recent increase in attacks.

“Russia and the separatists are launching these attacks, just as they escalated the conflict last August,” he said. “Efforts by Russia and separatists to grab more territory will be met with further costs.”

OSCE observers warned Saturday about heavy weaponry that has gone missing after it was withdrawn from the front lines. The OSCE monitors were denied access to two locations in rebel-held areas where heavy caliber weapons were supposed to be kept. They were told at one location that 11 Grad multiple rocket launchers had been taken to Donetsk.

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Go Inside the Frozen Trenches of Eastern Ukraine

Despite a fragile cease-fire, the fate of Eastern Ukraine remains in the balance

In the frozen landscapes of Eastern Ukraine, where government forces and pro-Russia fighters are fighting a bitter war of attrition, the specter of another vicious and unforgiving war looms.

“Shortly before the ceasefire, the scene was reminiscent of a World War I battleground,” says photographer Ross McDonnell, who has spent the last two weeks working along the Ukrainian front lines in Donetsk and Luhansk. “[There was] a lot of heavy shelling all day and all night, with tactical machine and mortar fire from open trenches on what was once the main road to Donetsk.”

McDonnell stayed in those trenches, near Shastya, a small town whose name means “Happiness.” For its inhabitants, however, the last few months have offered anything but joy, as it has repeatedly exchanged hands between the separatists and pro-government forces.

For the Irish photographer, who’s been covering the conflict since the first days of the Maidan revolution in early 2014, the goal now is to present a snapshot of the day-to-day life on the battlefield from the Ukrainian side. “There’s a sense of daily life in the trenches [establishing itself],” he says. “Many of the fighters have been there for months and they are exhausted. In Debaltseve, most of the fighters were in the encircled city for three months before withdrawing in the last days.”

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the withdrawal of more than 2,000 government troops from the disputed and strategic town of Debaltseve, trying to cast the move in a positive light while Russia-backed rebels claimed victory.

Despite the bitter winter and heavy losses on both sides, the spirit has remained warm, says McDonnell. “The people are pragmatic, and we get a sense that the soldiering life is a job and a duty,” he tells TIME. “On the Ukrainian side, at least, there’s a huge amount of pride. As individuals, they feel let down by their new government and by the West. They want to think they are ready to defeat the pro-Russian rebels, but they can’t take on Russia itself.”

And there’s no end in sight for this conflict, despite the fragile cease-fire that went into effect recently. “It will depend on the rebels’ ambitions,” says McDonnell, “but after their recent victories, it’s difficult to see any lasting ceasefire.”

Ross McDonnell is a photographer and filmmaker born in Dublin. LightBox has previously featured McDonnell’s work from Ukraine. Follow him on Instagram where he shares short films of life in Eastern Ukraine’s trenches.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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The Best Pictures of the Week: Feb. 6 – Feb. 13

From the Ukrainian peace plan to Brazil’s worsening drought and the disarmament of South Sudan’s child soldiers to a sex-free Valentine’s Day in Bangkok, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Ukraine

Fighting Has Flared Up in Ukraine, Raising Fears of All-Out War Once Again

Ukraine Army Fighting
Gleb Garanich—Reuters A new volunteer for the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's Azov battalion embraces his girlfriend before he and other volunteers depart to the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, in central Kiev on Jan. 17, 2015.

Renewed clashes come days ahead of a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis

Civilians came into the cross fire on Monday when pro-Russian fighters and Ukrainian forces battled in the rebel-controlled city center of Donetsk, critically undermining hopes that an already shaky four-month-old truce agreement can be implemented.

Shells struck a hospital, wounding a doctor and five patients. A nearby university was also hit, sparking speculations that the target was the nearby rebel security ministry.

In the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, an explosion wounded 12 civilians around a courthouse where the trial of what Agence France-Presse describes as a “pro-Western militant” was under way. In the nearby city of Debaltseve, three people died and 12 were left wounded during an exchange of heavy artillery fire. Rebels purportedly launched attacks from residential areas, putting many civilians on the front line.

The worsening crisis comes amid allegations that approximately 700 Russian fighters have slipped into Ukraine this week. Ukraine has frequently accused Russia of backing the pro-Russian separatists with increased arms and manpower.

Meanwhile, a fierce battle is taking place for control of Donetsk airport. Ukrainian presidential adviser Yuriy Biryukov said on Facebook that there were “many injured” after rebels blew up part of a terminal building, Bloomberg reports.

The U.N. Security Council will hold a meeting about the Ukrainian crisis on Wednesday. The conflict in Ukraine has killed nearly 5,000 since April 2014.


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Beneath the Front Lines of the War in Eastern Ukraine

A brutal ground war is tearing apart the region's coal-mining community as the long winter settles in

The miners didn’t hear the impact of the shell and kept extracting coal from the earth more than half a mile below the battlefield. They continued their work for several minutes, oblivious to the danger they were suddenly facing.

The shell, said to have been fired on Nov. 22 by the Ukrainian army in its war against pro-Russian separatists, had struck a shed at the state-owned Chelyuskintsev coal mine in the Petrovskyi district, located on the western edge of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The resulting explosion damaged the electrical and ventilation systems that serve the mine’s deepest shaft. A phone call from the security supervisor at the surface brought troubling news to the deputy director, who was working down below with more than 50 miners: they had just two hours of oxygen left, and the nearest elevator was now unpowered.

French photographer Jerome Sessini happened to be photographing at the mine that day. “At the beginning, the miners were quite relaxed and some of them were joking with us because it was a bit weird to see a photographer at the bottom of the mine,” Sessini told TIME. “The miners changed—their attitudes changed—so I felt something very serious was happening.” The deputy director reassured him that all was well, saying “don’t worry, everything is okay, just walk and everything will be fine.” (He wouldn’t find out until more than an hour later the kind of threat they had faced.)

The men began to find their way up and out of the mine on foot, using their headlamps to light the way. Shadowed by Sessini, they walked for about 30 minutes until they reached a rusted cable car powered by a small rescue generator. The car took them along a railroad eight kilometers (five miles) away to an elevator that ran off a power source unaffected by the shelling. They were now 270 meters (885 feet) below ground level. The elevator hauled them to the top of the mine. An hour and 20 minutes after the shelling, the men reached daylight—safe from the threat underground but back into the war zone.

Since last spring, the Russia-backed separatists have fought government forces for control of the eastern region of the country, one of Ukraine’s main industrial hubs and its coal-mining heartland. At least 4,700 people have been killed in the fighting, the U.N. estimates, and more than half a million are internally displaced.

Based in Paris, Sessini has spent much of the past year covering the unrest and its civilian impact in Ukraine. From the pro-independence demonstrations in Kiev, which erupted after the country’s former president opted against signing an association deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, to the rise of the separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, he has intimately documented the country’s fracture into civil war.

In July, Sessini was among the first on the scene after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a missile, killing all 298 people aboard. That’s where he first came into contact with miners, when they were scanning the fields with firefighters, looking for victims. Aware that mining is the region’s backbone — some families have taken up the profession for generations — he was interested to go deeper and arranged with his translator to find an active mine that would let him in.

Ukraine’s country’s coal industry, Europe’s fourth largest, has been hit particularly hard by the conflict. Sixty-six of eastern Ukraine’s mines had been lost as of Nov. 18, according to Euracoal, a Brussels-based trade association, and just 60 remained in operation. The drop in production—Ukraine produced 2.3 million tons of coal in October, according to its State Statistics Service, down almost 60% compared to the same month a year earlier—has created a critical shortfall.

And it’s taken a toll on the thousands of families in eastern Ukraine that rely on the industry. The closures have halted paychecks for months and left many without work. Sessini described the miners as “a very proud people,” the “elites” of the community who are somehow keeping their humanity despite the war: “They try to show they are having a normal life but you can see in their faces a kind of anger and frustration and depression.”

Some families have fled the region in search of stability; others have moved underground into World War II–era bomb shelters. And while miners have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the conflict, desperation and resentment have pushed some into the arms of the separatists.

The Ukrainian government said in late December that it has arranged to import enough coal to avoid power outages in the coming months. The imports will help Ukrainians stay warm during what is sure to be a cruel winter, but until the two sides strike a peace deal, the suffering in eastern Ukraine will continue—above ground and below.

Jerome Sessini is a French photojournalist represented by Magnum Photos. Kira Pollack, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Director of Photography. Follow her on Twitter @kirapollack. Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME Ukraine

Why Ukraine’s Peace Plan Leaves the Door Open for a Winter of Conflict

Residents Of Donetsk Have Largely Fled, As Pro-Russian Rebels Control The City
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A separatist fighter stands guard on Sept. 10, 2014 in Donetsk, Ukraine.

The peace process allows Russia to try a less violent means of keeping Ukraine dependent and divided — energy blackmail by shutting off its fuel supplies

The armistice in eastern Ukraine came like clockwork with the end of the summer fighting season, and both the government forces and the separatist rebels have taken it as a chance to entrench, consolidate their gains and make up for their losses. Even the separatist forces, who with the aid of Russia were on the offensive before the ceasefire took hold on Sept. 5, are playing along with the truce for now. But their leaders warn that this is only a breather between bouts.

“The situation now can best be characterized as neither war nor peace,” says Oleg Tsarev, one of the leading figures in the separatist movement. “Still, I expect there to be major upheavals for Ukraine ahead. Most importantly, how will it handle the winter, the cold, and the [economic] crisis that is now arriving in Ukraine?”

The winter weather, though ill suited to the use of tanks and infantry, will give Russia a chance to try out another tactic in Ukraine. Its goals will be the same—to pry Ukraine apart, to erode the support of its allies in the West and, ultimately, to halt or reverse the westward drift of the new government in Kiev. But when the temperature falls, Russia can pursue these aims more effectively by shutting off supplies of fuel than it can with the use of force.

It has been doing both already. As the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine was heating up in June, Russia handed Ukraine an unpaid fuel bill worth around $5 billion, demanded pre-payment for any future supplies and unceremoniously shut the tap. At the end of August, President Vladimir Putin said that talks to resume these supplies had “reached a dead end.” During the summer season, Ukraine’s reserves of natural gas have been enough to meet demand. But that may change with the onset of winter, which could force Ukraine to seek more help from the West—in the form of loans, energy supplies or both—to prevent its citizens from freezing.

Slovakia became the first this month to set its natural gas pipelines to flow backwards into Ukraine, potentially covering about a fifth of its neighbor’s demand. But practically all of Slovakia’s gas comes from Russia in the first place; now part of it is simply being shipped back to Ukraine. If other neighbors are willing to share, this bizarre arrangement may be the only way Ukraine survives the winter. But it’s not clear how generous E.U. nations can afford to be.

Europe depends on Russia for a third of its energy supplies, and roughly 80% of that gas travels through Ukrainian pipelines before getting to its destination. So the last time Russia tried to cut off the flow to Ukraine in 2009—during an especially frigid winter—millions of Europeans came up short on fuel when they needed it most.

The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk won’t have this problem. Russia has fuel pipelines running directly into these regions, and it has already begun negotiating supply deals with their separatist leaders on preferential terms. The goal, says Tsarev, is to demonstrate that an alliance with Russia is a lot cozier than one with the West, at least when it comes to surviving the winter. “Our goal is to rebuild our economy, to establish our statehood, and to show that our model is more successful than the one that exists in Ukraine,” he tells TIME in a phone interview.

The peace deal that Ukraine’s President defended on Wednesday will allow the separatists room to pursue these ends. In a speech to his cabinet of ministers, Petro Poroshenko said the breakaway regions would be able to hold elections to choose their own leaders and lawmakers. Ukraine’s parliament, he said, must also pass a law outlining “the temporary order of self-government for certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” namely those that are still under the control of the rebel militias. But the key provision of Poroshenko’s 12-point peace plan is the one that calls for the “decentralization of power.”

This phrase seems just vague enough to satisfy all sides. It falls short of Putin’s earlier calls for the “federalization” of Ukraine, which would grant broad rights of self-determination to the breakaway provinces. But it also allows Poroshenko to play up the promise that Ukraine will remain united, with no more regions splitting off. “The protocol does not mention any federalization, any secession,” he said. “That is not up for debate.”

The separatists would beg to differ. Andrei Purgin, one of the two rebel leaders who signed Poroshenko’s peace plan on Sept. 5, declared a few days later that the region of Donetsk is “standing firm on the condition of self-determination.” How the rebels will push this demand remains unclear. Tsarev says that the idea of full independence is still very much on the table, while another official in the rebel leadership, Sergei Kavtaradze (who unlike the other two is a Russian citizen) told TIME on Wednesday that, “we are not allowed to comment right now” on the question of independence. Considering his background as a Moscow public relations expert, Kavtaradze’s reticence suggests that Russia may be urging the separatists to hold off on making any more demands for now.

But that hardly means they will not arise in the future. If Ukraine moves ahead with its integration with the European Union, Russia could easily encourage the separatists to resume their rebellion. By spring, they will likely have elected a set of leaders who can push the cause of independence with more legitimacy than their movement can claim as of now. Though Poroshenko seems to realize this, he clearly sees it as the lesser evil.

Speaking to his cabinet on Wednesday, he said Kiev will probably not be thrilled with ranks of the local lawmakers that Donetsk and Luhansk will soon be allowed to elect. But then he asked, “isn’t it better to administer policy through ballots instead of automatic gunfire…?” Most of his war-weary constituents will likely agree that it is. But nothing in Poroshenko’s peace plan obliges the rebels to give up their arsenals, and weather permitting, they will still be able to use them again with the arrival of spring.

TIME russia

Canada Trolls Russia on Twitter With Sardonic Geography Lesson

So what is and isn’t Russia? Canada aims to set the record straight

“Geography can be tough.”

Canada’s NATO delegation posted a cheeky lesson on what is — and isn’t — Russian land in a tweet on Wednesday.

The snide post, which includes labels of “Russia” and “Not Russia,” was aimed at the Kremlin’s soldiers who “keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering #Ukraine” — a clear reference to the recent capture of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian territory. Exactly why the Russian soldiers wandered across the border remains murky, though Moscow maintains it was an accident.

The Canadian tweet had been retweeted more than 30,000 times as of early Friday morning, including by NATO delegations from the U.S., U.K. and Sweden on their official Twitter accounts. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also retweeted the map.

Russia, however, came back with its own snarky rebuttal.

On Thursday, the Russian NATO delegation’s official account wrote, “Helping our Canadian colleagues to catch up with contemporary geography of #Europe.” The tweet included its own map, which noticeably labels the Crimean Peninsula as belonging to Russia.

The map also shaded in a separate color for Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two states whose 2008 unilateral independence is recognized by Russia — but internationally condemned.

The Canada-Russia tweet battle came prior to an emergency NATO session with E.U. leaders on Friday. They plan to discuss Kiev’s accusations that Russia invaded eastern Ukraine as well as the West’s contention that Moscow is directly involved in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

TIME Ukraine

Russian Artillery Units Are Firing at Ukrainian Soldiers, NATO Says

A pro-Russian gunman is seen through a shrapnel hole after shelling in Donetsk on August 22, 2014.
Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty Images A pro-Russian gunman is seen through a shrapnel hole after shelling in Donetsk on August 22, 2014.

The move marks an escalation in a conflict over a region embroiled in war between Ukraine's central government and pro-Russian separatists

Updated 5:57 p.m. on Aug. 22

Artillery units being operated by Russian soldiers have crossed into Ukraine and are firing on Ukrainian forces, Western officials said Friday, in an apparent escalation of the ongoing conflict along the border.

“We have seen the use of Russian artillery in Ukraine in the past days,” U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday, calling it part of “a pattern whereby we’ve seen firing from within Russia into Ukraine, and we’ve seen a disturbing movement of Russian artillery and military equipment into Ukraine as well.”

Rhodes also called on Russia to remove a convoy of trucks that recently entered Ukraine, which Moscow says are bringing aid but whose arrival was not coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Ukraine has called the entry of the trucks a “direct invasion.”

“Russia should take the opportunity to remove this convoy from within Ukraine,” Rhodes said. “If they don’t, they will face additional costs and consequences from the United States and our partners in the international community.”

Russia has long been accused by the West of lending support, including arms and sometimes clandestine personnel, to pro-Russian separatists in the eastern half of Ukraine, but comments by Rhoades and NATO leaders marked the first time Western powers have accused Moscow of directly invading Ukrainian territory with Russian military units and personnel.

A NATO spokeswoman said the military alliance has received multiple of Russian forces being directly involved in recent days, the New York Times reports, “including Russian airborne, air defense and special operations.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in a statement from Brussels, said the group has “also seen transfers of large quantities of advanced weapons, including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and artillery to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, NATO is observing an alarming build-up of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine.”

Rasmussen condemned Moscow for allowing an ostensibly humanitarian economic convoy to enter Ukraine with no involvement from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which typically coordinates such missions. He went on to blame Russia for escalating tensions with a military buildup along the Ukrainian border.

“This is a blatant breach of Russia’s international commitments, including those made recently in Berlin and Geneva, and a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia,”Rasmussen said. “It can only deepen the crisis in the region, which Russia itself has created and has continued to fuel.”

The Obama Administration also condemned the latest Russian movements.

“At the same time as Russian vehicles violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia maintains a sizable military force on the Ukrainian border capable of invading Ukraine on very short notice,” National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “It has repeatedly fired into Ukrainian territory, and has sent an ever-increasing stream of military equipment and fighters into Ukraine.”

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine: Russia’s Aid Convoy Is a ‘Direct Invasion’

A Russian border guard opens a gate into the Ukraine for the first trucks heading into the country from the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Aug. 22, 2014.
Sergei Grits—AP A Russian border guard opens a gate into the Ukraine for the first trucks heading into the country from the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Aug. 22, 2014.

But Moscow warns against interfering with the trucks' crossing

Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into eastern Ukraine on Friday without the Ukrainian government’s approval, the Associated Press reports. This show of defiance, which a Ukrainian security chief called a “a direct invasion,” has increased fears of conflict between Russian forces and the Ukrainian military.

A witness told Reuters that 70 of the 260 white trucks left a Russian convoy that had been stalled at the border for over a week. The breakaway column crossed the border and headed for the rebel-held area of Luhansk, accompanied by some Ukrainian separatist fighters.

The convoy was being held at the border while Kiev and Moscow negotiated the terms of the crossing and discussed the trucks’ contents and the role the International Committee for the Red Cross should play. Both sides had agreed the Red Cross would accompany the vehicles, but an unnamed Ukrainian official told the Interfax news agency that the 70-strong convoy traveled without ICRC escort.

Ukrainian and Western officials are worried Russia may use the convoy as an excuse for Russia to directly intervene in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Moscow, however, has dismissed this as preposterous, saying instead that Friday’s border crossing happened after it had grown impatient with Ukrainian delays.

“All excuses to delay sending aid have been exhausted,” said Russia’s foreign ministry in a statement. “The Russian side has taken the decision to act.” The ministry further warned at any attempts to disrupt the convoy. A spokesperson for the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin has been told of the convoy’s advance.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has been sending weapons and experts to help separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has intensified around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk recently, with fatalities rapidly rising. All told, the struggle between Ukrainian troops and rebels loyal to Russia for control of eastern Ukraine has been raging for four months. The death toll stands at over 2,000, and many residents are stranded without food, medicine or clean water.


TIME Ukraine

Russian Aid Convoy Keeps on Trucking Toward Ukraine

A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moves along a road about 30 miles from Voronezh, Russia, Aug. 14, 2014.
Yuri Kochetko—EPA A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moves along a road about 30 miles from Voronezh, Russia, Aug. 14, 2014.

Kiev has now agreed to let the trucks enter Ukraine, but a full agreement on the crossing has yet to be reached

A Russian convoy numbering close to 300 vehicles has resumed its journey towards separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine, laden with what Russia says is humanitarian aid supplies for the people of Ukraine.

Traveling at 50 miles per hour the aid convoy left a military base in Voronezh, Russia before dawn, the New York Times reports. The vehicles had been held there for over a day following outcry from the Ukrainian government, and as Western officials voiced suspicions they could be cover for a potential invasion.

But it now appears that the convoy will be permitted to enter Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said Wednesday the trucks could cross following inspections by officials from Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Russia says the dispatch of aid, which were dispatched early Tuesday, was intended to counter the escalating humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. Moscow said the trucks, equipped with 649 tons of water and 340 tons of canned meat, were intended to help Ukrainians in areas like Luhansk where heavy fire has cut off water and electricity supplies. Residents are also without communication as phone lines have been hit.

Moscow and Kiev haven’t yet reached a complete agreement over the convoy’s crossing, however. If the vehicles cross at Izvarino, an eastern Ukrainian town close to Luhansk which isn’t under Ukrainian control, the existing agreement between Russia and Ukraine would need to be rewritten. Both sides had originally decided that the trucks would cross further north at a Ukrainian-held border crossing.

Poroshenko’s government authorized a similar Ukrainian aid convoy this week, in response to Moscow’s actions. Lorries loaded with supplies left Kiev, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Thursday bound for Starobelsk in eastern Ukraine.

The West has regarded the Russian convoy with deep suspicion. Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN said if Russia acted unilaterally in its humanitarian mission, it would “be viewed as an invasion.” On Monday NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters that there was a “high probability” of Russia invading Ukraine, potentially “under the guise of a humanitarian operation.”

Russia meanwhile insists that it’s working with the Red Cross despite their protestations otherwise. “All this is going on in complete coordination with and under the aegis of the Red Cross,” said Dmitri S. Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin to reporters.

Both convoys, Ukrainian and Russian, will arrive amidst escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine. The latest figures from the UN place the death toll at 2,086 since fighting began mid-April. Over half of these fatalities occurred in the past two weeks.


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