Kiev: Ukraine`s new Western-backed president today ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors in the separatist east that could save civilians and advance his plan to end nearly two months of fighting by the end of the week.
Petro Poroshenko`s initiative meets a major demand put forward by Moscow and helps address growing concern among rights groups about Kiev`s use of tanks and air power in heavily populated areas to suppress the pro-Russian insurgency.
But the 48-year-old chocolate baron and political veteran stopped short of accepting the Kremlin`s request to allow Russian aid into the eastern rustbelt -- a move Kiev fears could be used to help arm the rebels.
"In order to avoid new victims in the zone of the anti-terrorist operation, the president has ordered the responsible ministers to bring about all necessary conditions for civilians who want to leave," Poroshenko`s office said in a statement.
Russia said the decision was "welcome" but left room for concern that Poroshenko might only step up his offensive once civilians leave for safer parts of Ukraine.
"Military operations are continuing and even intensifying in a number of cases," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting his German and Ukrainian counterparts in Saint Petersburg.
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" and a "readiness from all sides to act to de-escalate the crisis".
Poroshenko has unveiled plans to end a rebellion that has killed more than 200 and shaken the very foundation of the splintered ex-Soviet state by the end of his first week in office.
The peace push came after the first of what are meant to be nearly daily meetings with Moscow`s ambassador to Kiev and a representative from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The high-stakes negotiations include efforts to stave off a Russian gas cut that would also impact Europe and plunge his economically-devastated country into even deeper recession.
A marathon round of EU-mediated gas talks broke up in Brussels early today for consultations and another session is due to begin at 1900 GMT.
A top leader in the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People`s Republic" said the level of violence made him doubt the sincerity of Poroshenko`s proposals.
"We heard about this initiative but doubt it will come into force," Donetsk "deputy governor" Andriy Purgin told Russia`s Interfax news agency.