As troops surround cities, Ukraine urges evacuation

Passengers wait before boarding a train terminating in Moscow, at a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, August 10, 2014. — Reuters pic
Passengers wait before boarding a train terminating in Moscow, at a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, August 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

KIEV, Aug 11 — Ukraine told residents of separatist strongholds in its easternmost regions to flee as government troops close in after dismissing a cease-fire offered by the militants.

Inhabitants of Donetsk and Luhansk, cities that were home to 1.5 million people before the pro-Russian insurgency began, can leave via humanitarian corridors, according to military spokesman Andriy Lysenko. The army, which has lost 568 servicemen since the fighting broke out, is targeting a decisive victory after a string of successes in recent weeks.

“We’re asking civilians to leave the cities where possible,” Lysenko told reporters today in the capital, Kiev.

“The operation to encircle these cities is almost over. The active operation continues day and night. We’re pushing ahead and aren’t stopping.”

Ukraine is trying to dislodge thousands of separatists from two regions that border Russia, which denies accusations by the U.S and Europe that it’s stoking the deadly unrest. President Vladimir Putin wants its neighbor to halt the military campaign and is offering assistance to tackle what it describes as a worsening humanitarian disaster. Ukraine is threatening Russia with sanctions that may curb energy transit to Europe.

Hryvnia Gains

Ukraine’s hryvnia strengthened for the first time in four sessions, rising 0.5 per cent to 12.49 per dollar, while the yield on the government’s dollar-denominated debt due 2023 fell 11 basis points to 9.571 per cent, snapping a six-day losing streak, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

A rebel leader broached the possibility of a truce during the weekend, saying in a statement that militants will continue fighting if the government doesn’t end its offensive. Lysenko said earlier that the insurgents must back such statements up with actions to lay down their weapons.

The fighting is causing havoc in the residential areas where it’s now concentrated. Luhansk, where about half of the 500,000 population remains, is completely isolated, with electricity cut off in the center and people without phone connections, food, medication or fuel, the city council said today on its website.

“The tragic humanitarian situation that’s unfolding in the region can’t wait,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said today in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, promising that aid would be dispatched as soon as the details had been determined.

Russian Talks

Russia is discussing urgent assistance with Ukraine, the Red Cross and humanitarian groups run by the United Nations, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters yesterday.

NATO has said Putin may cloak a Russian troop incursion as a peacekeeping effort. Valeriy Chaly, deputy chief of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, said in an Aug. 9 statement that a column of Russian soldiers and army equipment stopped before crossing the border after leaders asked the US, Russia and the Red Cross to intervene, calling the incident a “very serious provocation.” The Kremlin denied the accusation.

As the worst crisis between Russia and the US and its allies since the Cold War intensifies, the government in Moscow last week responded to sanctions by banning Ukrainian, American and European Union food imports.

Ukraine, which stopped receiving Russian gas in June though acts as a conduit for its neighbor’s European shipments, may hit back at the Russian sanctions with “complete or partial” ban on energy shipments, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said last week. It also may forbid Russian planes from using its airspace and cut defense-industry cooperation.

Transit Ban

State-owned NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy said today in an e-mailed statement that it may ban gas transit by “certain” companies, though unsanctioned counterparties would be allowed to ship gas across Ukraine. Peskov has said Russia will retaliate if new measures against it are approved.

World leaders—who’ve imposed sanctions targeting Russian individuals, companies and its finance, energy and defense industries in a bid to force Putin to de-escalate tensions—are continuing a diplomatic push to ease the hostilities.

Poroshenko spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry last night about providing humanitarian aid to Luhansk, according to a statement on his website. — Bloomberg