Separatists claim advances in eastern Ukraine


MOSCOW — Pro-Russian separatists claimed Saturday that they had opened up a supply line between the besieged eastern Ukraine areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Their next aim in fighting with Ukrainian government forces is to break the army blockade of the city of Luhansk, separatist leader Andrei Sakhartshenko told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Residents in Donetsk city reported heavy fire in numerous areas of the metropolis of 1 million people.

Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council reported from Kiev that the military operations would continue for some time because the taking of areas held by separatists could not be accomplished in a few days.

Troops, meanwhile, were tightening their siege of Gorlovka, a city northeast of Donetsk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Defence Ministry said.

Conditions for the people of Donetsk and Luhansk cities have become dire, local authorities said.

The more than 200,000 residents of Luhansk have been without electricity and water service for two weeks. More than 40,000 residents of Donetsk are without power, its city council said.

The governments of both Ukraine and Russia have sent humanitarian convoys to the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which the separatists have declared independent from Ukraine.

The nearly 280-truck Russian convoy was halted at the border, but the two neighbors’ governments have reached an agreement on the aid’s delivery.

Border agents are to begin an inspection of the convoy’s goods Saturday, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

President Petro Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that safe passage for the delivery of Russian aid to eastern Ukraine has still not been secured from separatists.

Poroshenko and Biden “agreed that Russia’s sending military columns across the border into Ukraine and its continued provision of advanced weapons to the separatists was inconsistent with any desire to improve the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine,” the White House said.