Biden in talks with Ukraine leaders as toll rises in east

November 21, 2014 7:38 am
A firefighter stands amongst rubble and flames after shells destroyed several houses near the airport in the flashpoint eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on November 20, 2014/AFP
A firefighter stands amongst rubble and flames after shells destroyed several houses near the airport in the flashpoint eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on November 20, 2014/AFP

, KIEV, November 21- US Vice President Joe Biden will meet Ukraine’s leaders Friday on the first anniversary of the protests that toppled the former pro-Kremlin regime, with Kiev hoping for an announcement on further US assistance.

Almost 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since a truce came into effect in September, an average of 13 people a day, the United Nations said Thursday, as the conflict in the east of the country drags on.

Biden, who arrived in Kiev on Thursday, is the latest high profile Western politician to visit in the hope of shoring up the bullet riddled ceasefire.

He is due to meet President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk later Friday.

On the eve of those talks, Yatsenyuk said he hoped for an announcement on further US assistance to Ukraine during Biden’s visit following a $53 million (42 million euro) package announced in September which included $46 million of security assistance.

But Russia warned against the US arming Ukrainian forces, with the secretary of Russia’s national security council, Nikolai Patrushev, saying the conflict in eastern Ukraine “will grow” if this happened.

Last year’s Maidan protests, on Kiev’s main square, for closer ties with Europe led to the overthrow of then president Viktor Yanukovych, prompting Russia to seize Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and eventually triggering unrest in the east.

Pro-Moscow separatist rebel and Ukrainian forces are fighting a drawn-out battle for territory despite the ceasefire.

The Kremlin denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it is backing the rebels with troops and military equipment but diplomatic relations have plunged to a low not seen since the Cold War over the seven-month conflict.

– ‘No military solution’ –

In an interview with Kiev’s The Day newspaper published Thursday, Biden stressed there was “no military solution to this crisis” and accused Russia of “interfering in the affairs of a sovereign state”.

He added: “I will be bringing a strong message of support to the Ukrainian people and government, about which I will have more to say when I am in Kiev.”

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine put the number of dead at 957 between September 5, when the ceasefire was signed, and November 18.

“The list of victims keeps growing. Civilians, including women, children, minorities and a range of vulnerable individuals and groups continue to suffer the consequences of the political stalemate in Ukraine,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

Counting the 298 people who died in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July, the overall toll since mid April, when fighting started, stood at 4,317 deaths as of Tuesday.

The report also detailed grave human rights abuses on both sides.

One Ukrainian soldier said his right arm, bearing a “Glory to Ukraine” tattoo, had been chopped off with an axe by rebels.

A separatist detained by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk said he had been repeatedly beaten and had a plastic bag placed over his head.

It also highlighted the huge volume of people registered as displaced within Ukraine by the conflict, with the number soaring from 275,489 in mid-September to 466,829 as of Wednesday.

– OSCE monitor ‘shot’ –

International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in the former Soviet state said Thursday one of their teams had been shot at by a man in uniform.

The OSCE said it was the first “direct” shot deliberately fired at observers during the mission.

The incident followed another Tuesday when a warning shot was fired towards an OSCE vehicle from a Ukrainian checkpoint near the frontline hotspot of Debaltseve.

The OSCE has nearly 300 observers working in Ukraine to monitor the ceasefire which has stopped fighting around much of the conflict zone but failed to halt bombardments at strategic flashpoints.

The incident highlights continuing high tensions in eastern Ukraine.

A 58 year old female nurse was killed in shelling close to the rebel stronghold of Lugansk, the region’s pro Kiev governor said Thursday, while rebels said one of their fighters was killed in Donetsk.

In September, the US announced a fresh $53 million aid package, including non lethal military equipment, to Ukraine but Kiev wants Washington to go further and provide lethal assistance.

“Blankets and night vision goggles are important,” Poroshenko told Congress on a visit to the US in September. “But one cannot win a war with blankets.”


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