Ukraine sending own aid convoys to war-torn east

AFP
Photo taken on August 13, 2014 shows people inside a makeshift bomb shelter in the basement of their house in the town of Yasynuvata near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine
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Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine said it was sending on Thursday its own aid convoys to the war-torn east of the country, as wrangling continued over a mammoth column of Russian trucks rumbling towards the border.

"Columns of trucks carrying assistance" will leave the cities of Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv for a government-held town some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the besieged rebel bastion of Lugansk, Ukraine's cabinet said in a statement.

The International Red Cross will distribute the aid to people living in rebel-held areas, the statement said. The Red Cross was not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian government said 15 lorries would leave Kiev carrying around 240 tonnes of aid following a government pledge Wednesday of roughly $750,000 (560,000 euros) in urgent assistance for the civilians living in insurgent-held territory.

The announcement comes as controversy swirls around nearly 300 Russian trucks heading south towards the border.

While Moscow says they are loaded with humanitarian aid, Ukraine has raised fears the lorries could be a "Trojan horse" bringing military help to pro-Moscow insurgents in the country's east.

Kiev suggested Wednesday that it could allow the aid to enter the country after it was inspected by Ukrainian border guards and foreign monitors.

The four-month-old conflict in the east has already caused 285,000 people to flee their homes, while the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk, besieged by Kiev forces, are without power or running water, while food supplies are dwindling.

In a phone conversation overnight to discuss the convoy, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US Vice President Joe Biden "agreed to continue to coordinate efforts to respond to current and potential threats and challenges," Poroshenko's office said Thursday.

The White House said Biden "underscored that the United States would continue working with its international partners to press Russia to de-escalate the crisis, and end all support, arming and financing of the separatists."

"The vice president also stressed the United States’ support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis," the statement added.

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