Ukraine’s President dissolved parliament yesterday and called for early elections in October as his country continues to battle a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern regions.
President Petro Poroshenko announced on his website that he has dissolved parliament and called for snap elections on 26 October.
The announcement came a day ahead of a summit that includes both Mr Poroshenko and the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier the Ukraine military said a column of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles has crossed into south-eastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters that the column of 10 tanks, two armoured vehicles and two trucks crossed the border near Shcherbak and that the nearby city of Novoazovsk was shelled during the night from Russia. He said they were Russian military vehicles bearing the flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels.
In pictures: The Ukraine crisis
In pictures: The Ukraine crisis
1/39 Ukraine crisis
Ukrainian soldiers from the 'Azov' battalion guard their base in Mariupol, Donetsk
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Children were transferred from orphanages in Donetsk and Makeyevka to escape the fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists
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Ukrainian servicemen captured by pro-Russian separatists sit on the ground as they are assigned to clean a street in Snizhne in the Donetsk region
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A view inside the Youth Culture Centre destroyed by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk
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A woman holds a portrait of her dead son as she speaks during a rally in front of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office in Kiev
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A boy ascends the stairs of a bomb shelter after the shelling in the Petrovskiy district in Donetsk
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A medic looks at thirty coffins prepared for the funerals of pro-Russian rebels killed during heavy fighting at Donetsk airport, outside a Donetsk morgue
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Relatives mourn near the coffin of Mark Zverev, a taxi driver shot dead during clashes at the Donetsk airport between Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russian rebels, during his funeral in the village of Grabari on the outskirts of Donetsk
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Medical workers carry a wounded pro-Russian militant on a stretcher after armed clashes occured between pro-Russian gunmen and Ukrainian troops in Slavyansk
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A member of a newly-formed pro-Russian armed group called the Russian Orthodox Army mans a barricade near Donetsk airport
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Black smoke rises from a shot down Ukrainian Army helicopter outside Slovyansk
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A woman is overcome with emotion as she looks at blood stains and damage around a wrecked truck of supporters of the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic' on road leading to the Donetsk International Airport
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A local man looks at damage near a wrecked truck of supporters of the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic' on road leading to the Donetsk International Airport
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A bloodstained icon of Jesus is seen among blood soaked shattered glass atop a wrecked truck near the Donetsk airport
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A family member attends a funeral for Olga Prokhorenko (60) who was killed by shrapnel after Ukrainian government forces shelled their location, during the funeral in Slovyansk
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A woman reacts after seeing the lifeless body of a man killed by shrapnel following a shelling from Ukrainian government forces in Slovyansk
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Pro-Russian militants take position on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk
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A woman embraces a pro-Russian separatist from the "East" battalion during a rally in the eastern city of Donetsk
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A Ukrainian helicopter Mi-24 gunship fires its cannons against rebels at the main terminal building of Donetsk international airport
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A pro-Russian gunman changes his position near the airport, outside Donetsk
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A pro-Russian gunman aims his weapon near the airport, outside Donetsk. Ukraine's military launched air strikes against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk in what appeared to be the most visible operation of the Ukrainian troops since they started a crackdown on insurgents
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Pro-Russians ride on a truck in Donetsk. A convoy of an armored personnel carrier and seven trucks carrying several hundred heavily armed men drove through central Donetsk and gunmen got out of the trucks, stood to attention and gave shots in the air in jubilation as a crowd of several thousand supporters cheered them and chanted: "Heroes!"
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An elderly woman leans against the chest of a pro-Russian gunman in Lenin square in Donetsk
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Pro-Russian militants guard a psychiatric hospital after shell explosions during the fighting between pro-Russian militants and the Ukrainian army, in Semyonovka village, outside Slavyansk
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Ukrainian troops stand guard at a checkpoint on the road near the eastern city of Izum, Donetsk
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Members of the Democratic Alliance party take part in a performance in front of the French embassy in Kiev. Protesters set up a pool with the blood of animals and models of warships in a protest against French plans for the sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to the Russian Navy
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A man carries a portrait of pro-Russian activist Vadim Hudich, who was killed in a shooting incident at the head of a funeral procession in the eastern Ukranian town of Krasnoarmeisk
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A voter is seen inside a voting booth at a polling station during the referendum on the status of Donetsk region in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk
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Members of a local election commission sort ballots as they start counting votes of referendum on the status of Luhansk region in Luhansk
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Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box as they start counting votes of the referendum on the status of Donetsk region in Donetsk
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Members of a local election commission empty ballot boxes as they start counting votes after a referendum, at a polling station in Lugansk
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Local residents watch as others give first aid to a man who was shot in the leg by Ukranian militia in the village of Krasnoarmisk. Eyewitness said that Ukranian militia tried to stop the referendum voters briefly taking the City Hall of Krasnoarmisk, where unarmed pro-Russian supporters were gathering. Reportedly the Ukranian militia came out out the building and started shooting at the people, killing at least one man and leaving at least two others injured
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Members of a local election commission count votes after a referendum organized by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic members at a polling station in Donetsk
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Voters visit a polling station to take part in the referendum on the status of Donetsk
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An Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with a Russian flag drives through the center of Slaviansk during the day of referendum organized by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic members in Slavyansk
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A statue of Lenin is placed in front of a pro-Russian barricade on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk
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A feamle veteran (C) sings during 'Victory Day' celebrations in Donetsk
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People stand near the burning Mariupol police station
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Ukrainian soldiers stand guard beside an armoured personnel carrier at a checkpoint in Mariupol. Ukrainian forces seized the rebel-held city hall in the eastern port city of Mariupol, driving out pro-Russian activists, then withdrew, making no attempt to hold onto the building
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that he had no information about the column.
The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea. Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.
Although Mariupol is in Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region, most of the fighting between separatist rebels and Ukrainian troops has been well to the north, including around the city of Donetsk, the rebels’ largest stronghold. An offensive in the south could draw Ukrainian forces away from the fight for Donetsk.
Col Lysenko said Mariupol has enough defenders “to repel any attack”.
Ukraine and the West say that Russia is supporting and supplying the rebels and that, since mid-August, Russia has fired into Ukraine from across the border and from within Ukrainian territory. Moscow denies those allegations. Fighting continued elsewhere in the east, notably around the town of Olenevka, 15 miles south of Donetsk. Col Lysenko said that about 250 separatists had been killed in that fighting, but did not specify in what time period. On Sunday, the rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said two-thirds of Olenevka had been wrested away from Ukrainian control.
Ukrainian forces had made significant inroads against the separatists in recent weeks.
Russia announced plans, meanwhile, to send a second aid convoy into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, where months of fighting have left many residential buildings in ruins.
Russia’s unilateral dispatch of more than 200 trucks into Ukraine on Friday was denounced by the Ukrainian government as an invasion and condemned by the US, the European Union and Nato. Even though the tractor-trailers returned to Russia without incident on Saturday, the announcement of another convoy was likely to raise new suspicions.
Mr Lavrov said yesterday that Russia had notified the Ukrainian government that it was preparing to send a second convoy along the same route in the coming days, but Col Lysenko said he had no information on that plan.
Mr Lavrov also said the food, water and other goods delivered to the rebel city of Luhansk was being distributed yesterday and that Red Cross workers were at talks on how best to distribute it. There was no immediate confirmation on that from the Red Cross.
In sending in the first convoy, Russia said it had lost patience with what it called Ukraine’s stalling tactics. It claimed that soon “there will no longer be anyone left to help” in Luhansk, where weeks of heavy shelling have cut off power, water and the phone service and made food scarce.