The Ukrainian city of Donetsk was rocked by blasts on Saturday, even as government forces and pro-Russian separatists prepared to create a buffer zone to separate the warring sides.
Participants at Ukrainian peace talks in Belarus agreed on Saturday to create a buffer zone 30-kilometers wide, moving artillery on the front line to separate Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.
A Reuters correspondent in Donetsk, the main industrial hub in Ukraine's turbulent east, said several powerful explosions were heard in the morning. A plant producing munitions and industrial explosives had been hit, municipal authorities said.
Explosions were also heard from the direction of the main international airport which government forces are still clinging on to despite rebels' attempts to loosen their control.
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in overnight violence, a military official told journalists.
“According to the text of the memorandum, each of the sides must pull back its heavy equipment and arms from today,” Volodymyr Polyovy, an official of Ukraine's national security and defense council, told journalists on Saturday.
Cease-fire 'in name only'
NATO's top military commander said on Saturday he hoped the buffer zone would calm the situation in eastern Ukraine because the truce there now is a cease-fire “in name only.”
“The situation in Ukraine is not good right now,” U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove told reporters in Vilnius, Lithuania. “Basically, we have cease-fire in name only.
“The number of events, and the number of rounds fired and the artillery used across the past few days match some of the pre-ceasefire levels. The ceasefire is still there in name, but what is happening on the ground is quite a different story," he said.
Speaking after a meeting of chiefs of defense of NATO countries in Vilnius, Breedlove, who is NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and commander of U.S. forces in Europe, said Russia has moved some of its forces inside Ukraine to the south to bring pressure on the port city of Mariupol.
On Friday, a third round of talks between representatives of Ukraine's government and pro-Russian separatists opened in Minsk, amid reports that renewed shelling in eastern Ukraine had claimed several lives.
Attending the latest meeting in Belarus' capital were Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma and several officials of the rebels' self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics," along with Russia's Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov and representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
During the last meeting of the so-called Contract Group, which took place in Minsk on September 5, the representatives of Kyiv and the rebels signed a 12-point cease-fire protocol that included concessions to the separatists.
Under the agreement, which was approved by Ukraine's parliament, the areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under rebel control will be granted temporary special self-rule status, including the right to set up their own police forces and appoint prosecutors and judges. Ukraine's parliament also approved a broad amnesty for many rebel fighters.
Sporadic fighting has continued in eastern Ukraine despite the cease-fire that went into effect on September 5.
On Saturday, a convoy of Russian trucks entered Ukraine with humanitarian aid for Donetsk - the third such convoy sent to eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.
The convoy of about 250 trucks from Russia arrived on the outskirts of Donetsk, though Ukrainian officials said they had crossed from Russia without authorization and in violation of international law.
Two of the drivers said the convoy had brought in a 2,000-ton cargo of aid including flour, tinned meat and fish, and power generators.
The humanitarian aid will be distributed to seniors, children, the disabled and families with multiple children in 25 aid stations in Donetsk, a member of the local armed militia told The Associated Press
Russia has also sent about 4,000 tons of aid to Luhansk, Ukraine, in two convoys.
Some information in this report was provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.