Ukraine and Russia 'agree' to aid mission to Luhansk

A young boy holds a loaf of bread as residents of the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk queue to receive bread distributed as part of humanitarian aid on 27 July 2014. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Residents in Donesk and Luhansk are facing food shortages and power cuts due to the fighting

Ukraine and Russia say they have agreed to a Red Cross-led humanitarian aid mission to the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Luhansk.

In a statement, the Red Cross said it was ready to begin aid delivery but needed more details about the aid from Russia before it could begin.

Ukraine and Western governments had previously objected to Russian aid.

Earlier, the EU Commission chief warned against unilateral Russian military action "under any pretext".

Thousands of people are without access to water, electricity and medical aid in eastern Ukraine, the Red Cross said.

At least 1,500 people have died since Ukraine's new government sent in troops to put down an insurrection by pro-Russia separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in mid-April.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ukrainian government forces pounded rebel-held Donetsk with artillery over the weekend

The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have fled to Russia.

Ukrainian forces have now encircled Donetsk, a city of one million people before the unrest began, and residents are struggling without power or reliable sources of food.

Staff security

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) laid down strict guidelines to uphold its neutral role.

It said that before any aid operation started, Russia would need to provide details including the volume and type of items, as well transport and storage requirements.

"All parties must also guarantee the security of ICRC staff and vehicles, for the entire duration of the operation" the ICRC's Laurent Corbaz said.

The ICRC does not accept armed escorts, he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier on Russian TV that an agreement had been reached.

But the Russian military will not be involved in the aid convoy sent, President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the AFP news agency.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko office confirmed an agreement with the Red Cross with the EU, Russia, Germany and other partners participating. The US would take an active part in the mission, he added.

The Kremlin did not say when the aid convoy would leave. The Red Cross acknowledged last week that it had received an offer from the Russian foreign minister about organising aid convoys to the affected areas in Ukraine.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ukrainian government forces say they are in the final stages of the battle for control of Donetsk
Image copyright AFP
Image caption People in Donetsk have sought shelter in makeshift bomb shelters amid the artillery fire
Image copyright AP
Image caption A prisoner tramples on grass left smouldering after shells landed at a high-security jail outside Donetsk

The Ukrainian government in Kiev and Western powers had earlier expressed concern that a Russian humanitarian mission in the east could be used as a pretext to bring Russian military forces across the border.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has accused Russia of using humanitarian grounds as a pretext for military intervention.

In a telephone conversation with President Putin on Monday, EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso "warned against any unilateral military actions in Ukraine, under any pretext, including humanitarian," an EU commission statement said.

Mr Barroso made a separate telephone call to the Ukrainian president to discuss the situation in Luhansk, it added.

Pro-Russia separatists sparked a four-month battle with Ukrainian government forces when they overran large swathes of the east and declared independence from Ukraine.

Ukrainian government artillery has been pounding areas on the outskirts of rebel-held Donetsk.

It led to the escape of 106 prisoners from a high-security prison on the outskirts of the city, after the facility was hit by shells on Sunday night.

The fighting has also prevented a full investigation of the MH17 air disaster, in which 298 people died.

The Malaysia Airlines plane was brought down in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine on 17 July and the remains of many of the victims are still to be recovered.

It is strongly suspected that the plane was shot down by pro-Russian rebels. Russia and the separatists have blamed the Ukrainian military.

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