KRAMATORSK, UKRAINE —
Ukrainian commanders will do whatever necessary to defend areas threatened by the latest offensive by Russian-backed rebels in the east, a military spokesman vowed Wednesday.
Speaking at a military base in eastern Ukraine as trucks carrying supplies and heavy equipment came and went, Lieutenant Colonel Leonid Matyukhin told VOA that Ukrainian troops had moved into and out of the besieged and nearly surrounded town of Debaltseve on Wednesday, indicating rebel forces had not succeeded in taking it.
But he said the town took heavy shelling.
A rebel commander, meanwhile, claimed his forces had established a position on the edge of the town, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southeast of Kramatorsk.
Matyukhin called on the West to stop ignoring Russia’s intervention and he accused the West of merely pretending to help. Ukraine has made clear for months what it needs, he said, but what was really needed is for the West to stop ignoring the facts. He appeared to be calling for more military aid.
Most of the Western aid has been nonlethal hardware, humanitarian supplies and financial help. The United States and the European Union have also hit Russia with economic and trade sanctions that, along with the sharp drop in the oil prices, have helped push the Russian economy into recession.
Since the new rebel offensive began about 10 days ago, apparently backed by Russian troops and supplies, the United States and the European Union have threatened more sanctions.
Meanwhile, the United States on Wednesday agreed to provide $2 billion in loan guarantees to help Ukraine with "near-term social spending" in 2015 and said it was prepared to step up economic sanctions against Russia if necessary.
After signing the deal in Kyiv with Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko, visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew criticized what he called "Russian aggression."
"We remain prepared to do more (on sanctions) if necessary. To that end, we will continue to work with our allies to increase the pressure on Russia,'' Lew told reporters at the signing ceremony.
Earlier, he urged the Ukrainian government to implement reforms in order to keep the financial help coming.
“It's essential that Ukraine's government continue to make progress in that reform effort," Lew said. "That's the only way the people of Ukraine will realize that prosperity and stability that they deserve, and that support of the international community can be sustained for as long as it's needed.”
Ukraine’s government has pledged to continue to cut bureaucracy, reduce government spending and fight corruption, among other reforms, even though it is fighting a war in the east and it is nearly out of foreign currency.
Officials from the International Monetary Fund were also in Kiev negotiating a bail-out package, currently worth $17 billion, which Ukraine's government hopes will be expanded to help it handle crippling external debt repayments due this year.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.