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Ukraine takes rebel ceasefire offer with a pinch of salt


Fighting raged in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Sunday despite a request from pro-Russian rebels for a truce to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Ukrainian officials demanded that the insurgents surrender instead.

In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said the only way for the rebels in Donetsk to save their lives would be to “lay down their arms and give up”. He said the Ukrainian side had not seen the rebels show any real willingness to cooperate.

“If white flags come up and they lay down their arms, nobody is going to shoot at them,” he said. “[But] we have not seen any practical steps yet, just a statement.”

The rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko called for a ceasefire on Saturday but his request was met warily by both the Ukrainian government in Kiev and the West.

Those leaders were concerned the move could be aimed at increasing international pressure on Ukraine to allow in a Russian aid mission. The West says that could be used as a pretext to bring Russian soldiers into Ukraine. Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, and Western leaders have repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and expertise to the rebels.

Mr Poroshenko said on Saturday that Ukraine was prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine. But he said the aid must come in without military assistance, pass through border checkpoints under Ukrainian control and be an international mission. He said he discussed German participation in such a mission with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow was in talks with Kiev, the International Red Cross and the United Nations on sending humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine. “We think it is a priority now to reach an agreement with the Ukrainian side, the International Committee of the Red Cross and international UN humanitarian agencies on the necessity to send emergency humanitarian aid to [the eastern provinces of] Luhansk and Donetsk,”  he said.