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Separatists Kill Dozens of Civilians Fleeing Violence in Eastern Ukraine

August 19th 2014

Ukraine says pro-Russian separatists attacked a convoy of civilians trying to escape fighting in the east Monday, killing "dozens," including children. A senior Ukrainian spokesman said on August 18 that the rebels used Russian-made mortars and rocket launchers to strike the column ferrying the terrified civilians. Many of the dead and injured are children. The spokesman said the convoy of buses was flying white flags as it traveled along the main road away from the city of Luhansk.

Dozens of people, including women and children, were killed in the shelling on August 18, said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's national security council. “The rebels were expecting the convoy and destroyed it entirely. We haven't been able to count the number of victims ... dozens [were killed],” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said, adding that he was unable to provide exact casualty figures. Military spokesman Anatoly Proshin said that evacuees were hit by mortars and Grad rockets. "As a result, there were a huge number of casualties. People were burned alive in the vehicles that were taking them out," Proshin told the Ukrainian Pravda newspaper.

A State Department spokesperson condemned the attack but said that it could not confirm who was responsible. "We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk and express our condolences to the families of the victims," Marie Harf said. "Sadly, they were trying to get away from the fighting and instead became victims of it."

The strike took place during the morning hours on August 18 as the civilian convoy travelled between the towns of Khrashchuvate and Svitlivka, which lie on the main road leading from the besieged  eastern city of Luhansk.

The allegations came after a five-hour meeting between the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany broke up without agreement on how to end more than four months of conflict that has killed over 2,100 people and left the region facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Ukraine has vowed to surround Luhansk and take it back from the pro-Russia separatists. For the last two weeks, residents have been without water, electricity and mobile phone service. Luhansk has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting so far in the civil war unleashed in Ukraine.

Rebels blame Ukraine

A separatist leader has denied the rebels attacked the civilians, and blamed the deaths on Ukrainian forces. The rebel leader denied his forces had the military capability to conduct such an attack, and accused Kyiv forces of regularly attacking the area and also using Russian-made Grad missiles.

“The Ukrainians themselves have bombed the road constantly with airplanes and Grads. It seems they've now killed more civilians like they've been doing for months now. We don't have the ability to send Grads into that territory,” said Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

There were no immediate further details. That road is likely the one that a convoy of Russian humanitarian aid would take if Ukraine allows it into the country.

Reports of fresh successes by the Kyiv military followed a breakthrough for government forces at the weekend when troops raised the national flag in Luhansk, a city held by the pro-Russian separatists since the onset of the conflict in April.

However, nine Ukrainian troops were killed there in overnight fighting, a military spokesman said.

Western sanctions against Moscow have failed to stem what NATO calls a steady supply of military equipment and men sent from Russia to help the rebels. Russia denies sending support, saying the rebels have seized equipment from the Ukrainians.

President Petro Poroshenko called on his top security advisers on Monday to address claims by the rebels to have received new stocks of heavy Russian military equipment and 1,200 trained Russian fighters.

Russian aid convoy

Meanwhile, a massive aid convoy sent from Moscow was still waiting to be checked at the nearby border as talks dragged on about allowing them to cross into rebel-held territory. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on August 17 “all questions” relating to Russia sending the humanitarian convoy to Ukraine had been addressed.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is to take responsibility for the aid convoy when it enters Ukraine, has demanded security guarantees from all sides, including the rebels, for the mission. "We are still waiting for security guarantees for the convoy," said Galina Balzamova, spokeswoman for the ICRC. As of now, no guarantees have been provided. 

The convoy has been parked for days in Russia near the border amid objections from Kyiv, which believes the convoy could be a ruse for Russia to get weapons to the rebels - a notion that Moscow has dismissed as absurd.

Cutting Edge Contributor Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com


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