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Kiev promises 'restraint' as army nears rebel Donetsk

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel have urged for a political solution to be reached.
Jul 9th 2014, 7:46 PM 5,962 31

Ukraine Ukrainian tanks roll to the base in Devhenke village, Kharkiv, on Monday. Source: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

REBEL STRONGHOLDS IN eastern Ukraine are braced for more fighting as Western leaders piled more pressure on Kiev to strike a truce with pro-Russian separatists.

In a telephone call, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko to move toward a political solution and said he promised to exercise “restraint” in the continuing drive to establish control in eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko said however that the rebels were still receiving weapons from Russian territory and lamented a “lack of progress” in even agreeing the next round of talks with Moscow.

In Lugansk — one of two regional capitals still held by the insurgents — the streets were deserted and an AFP team heard regular artillery fire to the north of the city with shooting seeming to be focused around the rebels’ military headquarters.

Ukrainian defence ministry said that troops had to repel a rebel attack on the Lugansk airport.

Ukraine Army jets fly over the Ukrainian government military base while troops wait for President Petro Poroshenko. Source: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

“Let them bomb us, let them kill us,” said a distraught local resident called Olga. “We have nowhere to go. Where could we go?” asked her husband Yevgeny.

The couple said they were trying to get their young son out of town as he was too scared to sleep at night.

Three people were killed in the city and five injured in the past 24 hours, local authorities said.

Another three servicemen were killed and four injured in clashes across east Ukraine in the same period, Kiev’s National Security and Defence Council said Wednesday.

In Slavyansk, the flashpoint town that was left by the rebels at the weekend, shell-shocked residents said they had hopes that Kiev’s promises to rebuild it from the rubble were not just words.

Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, center, and Minister of Defense, Valery Heletey, left, inspect weapons captured from rebels in Devhenke village. Source: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

“If (Poroshenko) wants to be the president of the whole country, I think they will rebuild it,” 62-year-old pensioner Nina said after meeting the Ukrainian leader Tuesday evening on his lightning visit to the ravaged Slavyansk where basic supplies were now distributed to queues of people.

The three-way call between Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko lasted forty minutes, and Paris said it resulted in assurances by the Ukrainian leader to “exercise necessary restraint… to spare civilians” as Kiev is faced with the rebels now housed in a much larger city of Donetsk.

Poroshenko said air force officer Nadiya Savchenko, who was captured by militants in eastern Ukraine, was now in a jail in central Russian city of Voronezh, calling it “unacceptable”.

Russia said Wednesday that Savchenko, known as “GI Jane” in her home country, has been arrested and charged with accessory to murder over the killed Russian state television journalists in June, and that she crossed the border herself without documents, pretending to be a refugee.

The Kremlin has been unusually restrained since the string of military advances by Kiev with analysts saying Putin could be distancing himself from the rebels despite calls from hawks to send troops across the border.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Ukraine claims rebels have been flushed from a main stronghold >

More: Ceasefire falls through in Ukraine as military launches ‘massive offensive’ >

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