Ukrainian troops inch closer to rebel city Donetsk

Ukrainian government troops were fighting pro-Russian rebels in the streets of Luhansk on Tuesday and captured most of a town near the eastern city of Donetsk, tightening the noose around that key rebel-held stronghold, Ukrainian officials said.

PTI| Last Updated: Aug 19, 2014, 22:03 PM IST

Donetsk: Ukrainian government troops were fighting pro-Russian rebels in the streets of Luhansk on Tuesday and captured most of a town near the eastern city of Donetsk, tightening the noose around that key rebel-held stronghold, Ukrainian officials said.

As the fighting raged, the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at an August 26 meeting in Minsk, Belarus. The two leaders have not met since early June, despite a rapidly climbing death toll in east Ukraine.

One soldier was killed and four wounded today when a volunteer battalion came under mortar fire before entering the town of Ilovaysk, 18 kilometers east of Donetsk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook.

Among the wounded was the commander of the Donbass battalion, Semyon Semenchenko, who said government soldiers had destroyed three rebel checkpoints and four firing positions and that fighting continued.

Government efforts to quell the separatists have focused on encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city in eastern Ukraine. Fighting began in mid-April after Russia annexed the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea but in the last few weeks, the government has recaptured significant amounts of rebel territory.

Ukrainian troops were also advancing in the separatist region of Luhansk, capturing one neighbourhood in the city of Luhansk as they battled the rebels today on city streets, Col Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine`s National Security Council, told reporters.

Fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations, a number that has grown in recent weeks as living conditions in rebel-held cities deteriorates rapidly.

With the rebels losing more and more ground, the Kremlin announced the meeting in Minsk, which would also include officials from the European Commission and the Eurasian Customs Union, which is comprised of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.

Poroshenko, who confirmed the meeting, said "stabilising the situation" in eastern Ukraine would be a key topic of discussion. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader wanted to talk about the deteriorating humanitarian situation there.

Living standards appear to be particularly dire in Luhansk, near the Russian border, which has been left without electricity, running water or phone connections for 17 days. Luhansk city hall said the city centre came under fierce shelling overnight, killing or wounding an unspecified number of civilians. Residents are standing in lines to buy bread as food supplies are running out, it said. Authorities also raised the alarm about a potential outbreak of infectious diseases since household garbage has not been taken away for more than two weeks.