Ukraine Rebels Enter Coastal Town

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have pushed their way into the port of Novoazovsk, threatening to open up a new front in the war.

The mayor of the town on the Sea of Azov confirmed rebels had entered, as jubilant rebel supporters shared photos of advancing tanks on social media.

The rebels have been trying for weeks to break out of a near-encirclement further north in Donetsk.

Russia denies it is covertly supporting them on the ground.

The fighting came hours after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised a “roadmap” for peace in the east.

He was speaking in Belarus late on Tuesday after holding his first direct talks on the crisis since June with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin said Russia, which denies supplying the rebels with weapons and covert forces, would assist with a dialogue, but he insisted that stopping the fighting was a matter for Ukraine alone.

In a brief phone call, mayor Oleg Sidorkin told AP news agency the rebels had penetrated into Novoazovsk. There were no immediate details on the size of the rebel force but Russian media reports said Ukrainian forces had retreated in a hurry.

Earlier yesterday, rebel forces fired at least ten shells into Novoazovsk, a town of 12,700 people,  AP reported from the scene. Four people were wounded in shelling the previous day, the mayor was quoted as saying.

Heavy weapons are routinely used by both sides in the fighting which has raged since mid-April, when Kiev sent in security forces to put down the rebellions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Seven villages to the north of Novoazovsk were also captured by the separatists, officials in Kiev said. — BBC

Novoazovsk lies far to the south of Donetsk region, near the port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian security forces dislodged rebels in June.

Closer to the city of Donetsk itself on Wednesday, Ukrainian security forces said a column of 100 vehicles had been seen travelling in a southerly direction from Starobesheve to Telmanove.

These vehicles, which included tanks, armoured troop carriers, Grad multiple and rocket launchers systems, were marked only with “white circles or triangles”, the Anti-Terrorist Operation press centre said. — BBC

An unnamed Ukrainian defence source told AFP news agency that the vehicles had to be Russian.

Seeking to verify the report, an AFP journalist found traces of caterpillar tracks pointing south on the road between Starobesheve and Telmanove.

The journalist also heard explosions in the area and was told by a local resident that there had been fighting at Starobesheve overnight.

President Putin sought to play down the incident when he spoke to reporters in the Belarusian capital Minsk yesterday, where he met Mr Poroshenko.

“From what I have heard, they were patrolling the border and could have ended up on Ukrainian territory,” he said.

However, liberal Russian business newspaper Vedomosti raised concern yesterday that Russia was waging a covert war on the rebel side.




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