Ukraine crisis: Luhansk celebrates end of weeks of shelling

In some towns, the decline in fighting has allowed for a return to some kind of normality

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The Independent Online

The conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine city of Luhansk had a rare day of jubilation yesterday as pro-Russian fighters paraded military vehicles victoriously through city streets – as other areas saw continued shelling in the conflict between government forces and the rebels.

In the other regional capital of Donetsk, the city council said yesterday that shelling hit two residential neighborhoods near a government-held airport.

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council spokesman Volodymyr Polyovyi said that government troops repelled an attack at the airport by about 200 fighters late on Saturday, and there were no military casualties.

A ceasefire deal, imposed on 5 September, has broadly been riddled by violations, and explosions still ring out daily in Donetsk. But in some towns, the decline in fighting has allowed for a return to some kind of normality, as shell-shocked residents emerge from the basements where they hid from shelling for weeks and come to grips with the damage incurred by nearly five months of fighting.

Signs of life are gradually returning to Luhansk, which was bombarded by shelling from Ukrainian forces as they attempted to uproot separatist rebels operating in the city.

Luhansk’s population of about 250,000 people, reduced because of the war, emerged to celebrate “city day” yesterday, which opened on a sombre note as priests led hundreds of residents in prayer in commemoration of those killed during a government-mounted siege of the city.

Speaking at the open-air service by the Mother of Sorrows Church, local separatist leader Igor Plotnitsky mourned those that had been killed and in an unusually conciliatory public statement called for forgiveness for those responsible.

A Russian aid convoy arrived on Saturday in Luhansk in an effort to relieve shortages in the city, but the border crossing did not have the approval of Kiev or oversight of the international Red Cross.

Under a scratched-out sign reading “Strong Ukraine”, men in camouflage handed out chocolate, drinking water, soap, toilet paper, nappies and other basic requirements to a large crowd of residents patiently waiting in line.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Valery Heletey, said yesterday that Nato countries were delivering weapons to his country to equip it to fight pro-Russian separatists and “stop” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this month, a senior Ukrainian official said Kiev had agreed on the provision of weapons and military advisers from several members of the alliance. Four of the five countries named, including the US, denied this.