Ukraine peace talks threatened by deadly attacks

Fighting casts shadow over today’s crisis talks between EU leaders and Putin and Poroshenko

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The Independent Online

Desperate four-way peace talks planned today in Minsk appeared increasingly doomed to failure last night after fighting intensified in eastern Ukraine.

Early in the morning, reports emerged that Russian-backed rebels had taken the village of Logvinovo, near the strategic transport hub of Debaltseve, around 20 miles north-east of Donetsk. The conquest raised the possibility of full encirclement of Ukrainian troops based in Debaltseve.

By midday, the government-held regional centre of Kramatorsk had become the target of a long-range rocket attack, with seven civilians killed and at least 26 injured. Ukrainian officials claimed Russian-produced Smerch and Tornado rocket systems were used in the attack, and journalists suggested they had been fired from rebel-held areas. The large-calibre missiles fell primarily at the military aerodrome to the west of the city, but several missiles fell on central streets.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus today in a bid to end the war that has claimed more than 5,300 lives since April.

In Moscow, meanwhile, a court extended the arrest of Ukrainian military officer and MP Nadezhda Savchenko for three months. Ms Savchenko, who today begins her 60th day of hunger strike, is being held for supposedly directing fire on two Russian journalists, and illegally entering Russian territory. Prosecutors have not presented credible evidence of either claim.

 

The European Union is pressing for her release. Zoya Svetova, a member of the Moscow Public Prison Oversight Commission, has visited Ms Savchenko several times, and says her condition is worsening. “Her blood results are now a real cause for concern,” she said yesterday. “Even if she stops now – and we are trying to persuade her to – she is likely to be rendered disabled forever.”

Ms Savchenko has said she will interpret any attempts to force feed her as torture. “I’ve seen many people on hunger strike before,” said Ms Svetova. “You can usually trick these people into eating, but Savchenko is different.”

Ms Savchenko, a helicopter pilot, was originally based in a non-fighting division in west Ukraine, but in May travelled east to join the Aidar assault battalion on the front line. Evgen Dykyj, a former Aidar member, told The Independent: “I remember my first training session with her: she told us all that we were all a pile of crap, but that we’d hopefully be OK to take her place by the time she was killed.”

Mr Dykyj says the Russian charges are “absurd”. He says that, far from trespassing the Russian border, on 17 June Ms Savchenko was taken prisoner by rebels during fierce battles around the village of Metalist, north of Luhansk.

Ms Savchenko’s lawyer, Ilya Novikov, told The Independent he did not believe the case could be resolved through the courts. “Political problems require political solutions,” he said. Ms Savchenko is unlikely to stop her hunger strike without concessions.

Today, in Minsk, as four leaders debate a solution to Ukraine’s civil war, more than concessions will be required to achieve a lasting peace.

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