German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the standoff over
Ukraine could be solved but only if control was tightened over
the Ukraine-Russia border across which, the West alleges,
Russia has been funnelling arms to help a separatist rebellion.
Merkel was visiting Kiev as a prelude to a meeting next week
between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders that diplomats say
is the best chance in months of a peace deal in eastern
Ukraine, where government forces are fighting pro-Moscow
She arrived as tensions flared up again. NATO has alleged
Russia's military is active inside Ukraine helping the
rebels, and Moscow angered Kiev and its Western allies by
sending an aid convoy into Ukraine against Kiev's wishes.
"There must be two sides to be successful. You cannot achieve
peace on your own. I hope the talks with Russia will lead to
success," Merkel said, looking ahead to the meeting on
Tuesday involving Russian President Vladimir Putin and his
Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko.
"The plans are on the table, about how you can achieve peace
and good cooperation between the countries. Now actions must
follow," she told a news briefing.
She said the main obstacle was the lack of controls along the
nearly 2,000 km (1,300 mile) border. She proposed a deal
between Kiev and Moscow on monitoring of the frontier by the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"Now we need a two-sided ceasefire linked to a clear
controlling of the Russian-Ukrainian border, otherwise peace
won't be achieved," Merkel said.
Diplomats say Merkel came to Kiev with two objectives:
primarily to show support for Kiev but also to urge
Poroshenko to be open to peace proposals when he meets Putin
next week in the Belarus capital, Minsk.
Poroshenko, whose forces have been forcing the rebels to
retreat, said Kiev had offered ceasefires before and they
were flouted. He said no peace deal was worth sacrificing
Ukraine's territorial integrity, and placed the blame at
"Ukraine is ready and capable of guaranteeing a peaceful
settlement," Poroshenko said. "What is stopping us are the
foreign mercenaries. Take the people with guns out of our
territory....and peace in Ukraine will be quickly restored."
Hours before Merkel's plane landed in Kiev, there was heavy
artillery bombardment in Donetsk, the main separatist
stronghold on the east of Ukraine, near the border with
Russia. Reuters reporters saw apartments destroyed and
puddles of blood, where, according to residents, two
civilians were killed.
Reuters photographer saw three dead bodies of civilians in
the eastern part of Donetsk 7 km (about 4 miles) from the
centre after shelling in the afternoon.
Witnesses said the bodies belonged to a family which had run
out of their home to take cover in a bomb shelter.
The unusually intense shelling may be part of a drive by
government forces to achieve a breakthrough against the
rebels in time for Ukrainian Independence Day, which falls on
The conflict in Ukraine has dragged Russian-Western relations
to their lowest point since the Cold War and drawn trade
sanctions that are hurting already-fragile economies in
European and Russia.
A convoy of about 220 white-painted trucks rolled into
Ukraine on Friday through a border crossing controlled by the
rebels after days waiting for clearance.
Moscow said the trucks moved in without Kiev's consent
because civilians in areas under siege from Ukrainian
government troops were in urgent need of food, water and
other supplies. Kiev called the convoy a direct invasion, a
stance echoed by NATO, the United States, and European
The OSCE said its monitors on the border had counted all 227
vehicles that entered Ukraine in the convoy coming back out
again into Russian territory.
A Ukrainian military spokesman said however that some of the
trucks had been loading up production equipment from military
plants in Ukraine. The spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said the
equipment was taken from the Topaz plant which makes
Kolchuga, a type of radar system, and from a factory in
Luhansk which produces firearms' magazines.
In Brussels, NATO said it had reports of Russian troops
engaging Kiev's forces inside Ukraine - fuelling Western
allegations that the Kremlin is behind the conflict in an
effort undermine the Western-leaning leadership in Kiev.
"Russian artillery support - both cross border and from
within Ukraine - is being employed against the Ukrainian
armed forces," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.
A Ukrainian military spokesman in Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, said
Ukrainian government forces were now coming under
cross-border fire from Russia, using Grad and Uragan
missiles, over a 400 km (250 mile) length of the border.
The Russian foreign ministry called the allegations
"groundless." Russia accuses Kiev, with the backing of the
West, of waging a war against innocent civilians in eastern
Ukraine, a mainly Russian-speaking region.
The crisis over Ukraine started when mass protests in Kiev
ousted a president who was close to Moscow, and installed
leaders viewed with suspicion by the Kremlin because of their
Soon after that, Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of
Crimea, and a separatist rebellion broke out in eastern
Ukraine. In the past weeks, the momentum has shifted towards
Ukraine's forces, who have been pushing back the rebels.
The separatists are now encircled in their two strongholds,
Luhansk and Donetsk.
Reuters reporters in Donetsk said that most of the shelling
was taking place in the outskirts, but explosions were also
audible in the centre of the city.
In Donetsk's Leninsky district, a man who gave his name as
Grigory, said he was in the toilet on Saturday morning when
he heard the whistling sound of incoming artillery. "Then it
hit. I came out and half the building was gone."
The roof of the building had collapsed into a heap of debris.
Grigory said his 27-year-old daughter was taken to hospital
with injuries to her head. He picked up a picture of a baby
from the rubble. "This is my grandson," he said.
In another residential area, about 5 km north of the city
centre, a shop and several houses had been hit. Residents
said two men, civilians, were killed.
Praskoviya Grigoreva, 84, pointed to two puddles of blood on
the pavement near a bus stop that was destroyed in the same
attack. "He's dead. Death took him on this spot," she said.