Ukraine customs checks start on Russian aid convoy

Russian convoy at border - 21 August 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Several Russian aid lorries are poised ready to enter Ukraine

The Red Cross says Ukrainian customs checks have begun on Russian lorries carrying aid for civilians in eastern Ukraine, which are still at the border.

Red Cross official Laurent Corbaz said the aid delivery "could start soon... hopefully tomorrow".

Several of the huge convoy's lorries are reported to be in the area between Russian and Ukrainian checkpoints.

Russian TV news channel Rossiya 24 showed inspectors and Red Cross officials looking inside one lorry.

The aid is intended for civilians in the besieged rebel-held city of Luhansk, but the convoy has been delayed for days.

Heavy fighting is continuing in and around Luhansk and the International Red Cross (ICRC) has insisted on security guarantees for its personnel before the convoy sets off.

The plan is for ICRC cars to escort the lorries at all times. There are 35 ICRC staff in the area to facilitate the delivery.

In a tweet, the ICRC said "Ukraine border guards have started inspections of the first Russian trucks, we are observing. Trucks should roll tomorrow."

The Izvaryne border post is held by pro-Russian separatists, who allowed Ukrainian customs inspectors into the area to check the cargo.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ukrainian troops are trying to squeeze rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk

Red Cross monitors

Mr Corbaz said that "in Luhansk, as in other areas affected by the ongoing conflict, there is an urgent need for essential items such as food and medical supplies and to restore contact between separated families".

The Russian convoy totals 270 lorries. They have been parked near the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky since leaving the Moscow region on 12 August, and are said to be carrying 2,000 tonnes of aid.

The Russian lorry drivers have been told they must drive directly to the delivery point without stopping, the Russian emergencies ministry says. There will be only one driver per lorry.

The aid will go to Luhansk and other regions, ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told the BBC. The recipients will be determined by the Ukrainian Red Cross and local authorities, he said.

"We understand that there will be batches of lorries going through - accompanied by ICRC personnel in Red Cross vehicles. There is usually a vehicle at the front and one at the back of each batch."

On the nature of the cargo he said "we have received the information we need". "It includes basic aid, like water, food. Ukrainian customs officials do the checking, our job there is to observe that process, as a neutral party."

Strategic battle

Nineteen Ukrainian troops have died battling rebels in a strategic town east of rebel-held Donetsk, Ukraine's government says.

The battle for control of Ilovaisk has been raging this week and Anton Gerashchenko, a top adviser in the Ukrainian interior ministry, says "the situation there now is really difficult".

The town, about 50km (30 miles) from Donetsk, lies near a major road to Luhansk.

Ukraine's National Guard has sent extra mortars and anti-tank weapons to the volunteers fighting the separatists in Ilovaisk, officials say.

Ukrainian officers say they believe well-trained Russian mercenaries are helping the rebels.

In a Facebook post (in Russian), Mr Gerashchenko said Ukrainian forces were trying to prevent reinforcements reaching the rebels holding out in Ilovaisk.

Image copyright Pic: Roman Bochkala
Image caption This captured BMD-2 armoured vehicle allegedly belongs to the Russian military
Image copyright Pic: Roman Bochkala
Image caption A Russian combat rulebook for paratroopers allegedly captured in eastern Ukraine
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ukrainian government forces are in the midst of a fierce offensive against pro-Russian rebels

Heavy fighting was also continuing on the edge of Luhansk; Yasynuvata near Donetsk; and near rebel-held Horlivka, Mr Gerashchenko said.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian journalist has released photos of a Russian armoured vehicle and documents allegedly captured in the Luhansk region.

The journalist's report on Facebook was rejected by Russia's defence ministry, Russian media report.

Roman Bochkala's photos showed a Russian BMD-2 armoured personnel carrier and documents allegedly from a unit of Russia's Pskov airborne division.

Russia's defence ministry said the report was a "fabrication" because the documents shown were old ones, no longer used by the Russian military.

Eastern Ukraine - the increasing human cost

  • At least 2,119 people have been killed and 5,043 wounded since mid-April, according to a UN report on 7 August
  • 951 civilians have been killed in Donetsk region alone, the official regional authorities said on 20 August
  • Official casualty counts only record certified deaths while in some particularly dangerous parts of the war zone, such as Luhansk region, victims are said to have been buried informally, for instance in gardens
  • Rebels (and some military sources) accuse the government of concealing the true numbers of soldiers killed
  • 155,800 people have fled elsewhere in Ukraine while at least 188,000 have gone to Russia