The leaders of the European Union, Ukraine and Russia will meet in Minsk, Belarus, on August 26 to discuss energy security and the conflict in east Ukraine, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko said on Tuesday.
“The high-level meeting… [will] discuss issues related to the implementation of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, energy security and the stabilizing of the situation in the Donbas,” a statement on his website said. Donbas refers to Ukraine’s industrial east.
The meeting will also include the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus, who are part of a Russian-led Customs Union, it said. The Kremlin said Russian president Vladimir Putin would join president Poroshenko at the Minsk meeting.
Bodies of 15 civilians recovered
The Ukrainian government says it has recovered the bodies of 15 civilians who were in a convoy of vehicles fleeing Luhansk when they were struck by a missile Monday. Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Tuesday efforts to recover more bodies have been suspended due to fighting in the war-torn eastern area.
Lysenko announced at a news conference in Kyiv late Monday that separatists had fired Grad rockets, supplied by Russia, at a convoy of civilians fleeing the besieged city of Luhansk.
Speaking Tuesday, he said women and children were among the dead but added it was impossible to ascertain how many may have died in the attack. Other Ukrainian officials said some of the dead were burned to death in their vehicles.
The separatists denied allegations they were behind the attack, although insurgent leaders don’t deny some kind of rocket attack took place Monday that led to civilian deaths. But they accused Ukrainian government forces of being behind the deadly strike. They said Ukrainian forces are bombing roads.
US condemns shelling
The US state department condemned the shelling of the convoy but said it couldn’t confirm who was responsible. The death toll has risen since April, when the Ukrainian army supported by volunteer battalions launched a counter-insurgency operation to try to wrest cities and towns seized by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Last week, the United Nations nearly doubled its estimate of the number of people killed in eastern Ukrainian conflict to 2086 as of August 10.
Half are likely civilians, officials told VOA. They include 298 who died in the downing of a Malaysian commercial jet last month by a missile that Western governments have said was fired by rebels and supplied by Russia. The UN blamed most civilian casualties on the separatists.
Some civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk – it isn’t clear how many – have died when Grad rockets struck their homes. The rumble of rocket and mortar exchanges is heard every day in both cities with episodic bombardments, most often at night or around dawn.
Ukrainian officials say they are only fighting a ground war and are not firing artillery towards residential areas. They claimed rebels are responsible for the bombings, conducting them for propaganda purposes to place the blame on Kyiv.
The accuracy of the claims of either side are difficult to verify. VOA has heard Grads being launched from behind government lines and has been told by Ukrainian soldiers that insurgent mortar and rocket fire is answered with their own artillery.
Equally, VOA has traveled down roads in and out of Donetsk that have come under mortar fire from rebel positions. Combatants from both sides are operating in residential areas, mixing with civilians, and the ordnance being used is old and far from accurate.
(Russian president Vladimir Putin, with his back to the camera, speaks to German chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in June, after the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings by Allied forces during World War 2. Photo: kremlin.ru)