The Ukrainian military says troops are continuing to close in on remaining separatist regions in the east, and are warning civilians to evacuate the areas to avoid being caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine continue to be at odds over a possible humanitarian mission to bring supplies to besieged residents.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kyiv Monday “anti-terror” forces are attacking separatist strongholds from four directions, closing in on the main rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Lysenko warned civilians to leave the areas around Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province - near the border with Russia - to avoid the coming assault.
"We are once again addressing civilians,” he said. “If you can, leave these areas temporarily because there will be liberating operations and attacks on terrorists.”
He added that the armed forces will do what they can to provide transportation for citizens wishing to flee. The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been internally displaced from the two eastern regions in Ukraine since the conflict began in May.
Military spokesman Lysenko said 568 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in fighting with Russian-backed separatists.
Lysenko said the military plans to maintain pressure on rebels who still control substantial swaths of territory in the east.
"If we pause,” Lysenko said, “the terrorists will have time to regroup, to get more supplies, more civilians and military will be killed; that's why we are moving forward, we are not stopping."
In another development, a prison in Donetsk was reportedly shelled late Sunday, killing one inmate and allowing others to escape.
It is not clear who fired the shots, though Ukraine's military denies responsibility.
Russia, meantime, has asked for a humanitarian mission in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide relief to distressed citizens in the eastern regions.
Ukrainian, U.S. and European officials have said any unauthorized Russian intervention would be a violation of international law.
A statement from the office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he discussed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend the possibility of a Ukrainian-led humanitarian mission in Luhansk in coordination with the ICRC.
However, an official with the Ukrainian Red Cross National Committee told VOA Monday they had received no requests from the Ukrainian government.
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