Ukraine, where humanitarian aid is so badly needed, had to wait yet another day as aid delivery was held back by fighting, and a lack of security guarantees for Red Cross workers. Some progress has been made as the Ukrainian government says that their customs and border control officials have begun inspections of the convoy. Those inspections are taking place just across the border in Russia. Reporters at the scene have also indicated the presence of Red Cross personnel.
The death toll continues to rise in eastern Ukraine as pro-government forces have liberated the town of Zhdanovka, formerly under the control of separatist rebels supported by Moscow. In nearby Debaltsevo, government sources said that numerous arrests had been made for terrorist activities, as the Ukrainian military worked to reclaim the town on Sunday.
Reports from the area indicate that separatists have removed several flags of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, and some rebel fighters were seen fleeing the area according to local residents. Yesterday the Ukrainian military reported that pro-Russian forces had shot down another fighter jet. The pilot ejected but there are conflicting reports on the whereabouts of the pilot.
The fighting has been going on for over four months, and estimates are that over 2,000 people have been killed; many of the dead are civilian casualties. Experts believe that Luhansk is now without electricity or running water, and predict that most residents no longer have access to food sources. Fierce fighting has disrupted supply routes in and out of the city.
The Russian humanitarian aid convoy has been stuck for several days outside the Ukrainian border. The convoy was supposed to have crossed the border Saturday under Red Cross direction, however for yet another day, the convoy remained stuck on the Russian side of the border. The convoy approached the nearest border crossing, but stopped short of entering Ukraine after Red Cross officials said that both sides had not yet agreed to guarantee safe passage for Red Cross personnel.
Ukraine’s east needs humanitarian aid, but a delivery agreement could not be reached, as efforts were held back by continued fighting. On the outskirts of Luhansk, government forces have apparently retaken a police station in the Velika Vergunka district. Police stations were among some of the first buildings stormed by pro-Russian separatist rebels when the fighting began months ago. On Thursday, two more rebel commanders resigned, and have reportedly returned to Russia, although Russia has refused to confirm those developments.
Luhansk is an important city in the battle as it is key to Russian support for the rebels. Separatist forces have used Luhansk as an important supply line to the region, and then south to Donetsk. Luhansk is much closer to the Russian border than Donetsk, and should the Ukrainian military regain control of the area, it would become much harder for Russia to continue supplying rebels with fighting equipment, fresh rebel troops, and essential items like food and medical supplies.
While the Ukrainian government in Kiev has made significant progress towards recapturing key towns in the Donbass region, NATO officials are worried that the growing potential for a rebel defeat might bring a stronger Russian response. Ukrainian military spokesperson Andriy Lysenko, told reporters on Friday that Ukrainian forces were retaking the city of Luhansk “step-by-step.” That process has not been easy because the separatists are fully armed and appear to be well-trained.
Officials in Kiev claim that it is only a matter of time before Luhansk, and then Donetsk, will be liberated. Lysenko said that preparations are being laid for a final assault to drive the rebels back across the border. Meanwhile the civilian population of eastern Ukraine was forced to wait, as delivery of important humanitarian aid was held back by the fighting.
By Jim Hanemaayer