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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KIEV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)–
A town in eastern Ukraine has came under heavy shelling by pro-Russian seperatists, a day after the Russian and Ukrainian leaders met in Belarus, to discuss the escalating crisis in east Ukraine.
Tuesday’s attacks at the government-held town of Novoazovsk raised fears that the rebels had begun a counter-offensive against government forces by opening a new front.
Reporters saw plumes of black smoke rising above the town, which was hit repeatedly shelled injuring four residents in a local hospital, the town’s mayor, Oleg Sidorkin, told The Associated Press news agency.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had agreed on the principles of a peace plan to end the fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
He made the announcement after their first face-to-face meeting since June, which were held in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
After tense talks in Minsk, Poroshenko said Russia’s Putin had accepted the details of Kiev’s road map for peace.
Poroshenko pledged to work on an urgent plan for a ceasefire between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, where clashes continue. “An agreement has been reached involving the immediate creation of a three-sided contact group,” he said.
“I am hopeful we could see the release very soon of those hostages who’re being illegally held now.”
Poroshenko was flanked by officials including European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton who has been backing the deal.
Yet, his words seemed a far cry from reality on the ground in eastern Ukraine: For the past two days heavy shelling hit an area of southeast Ukraine, including Novoazovsk, that had escaped the fierce fighting of recent weeks.
Devoted Christians and church leaders have also been attacked and several were killed in recent weeks, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Ukrainian officials claimed the pro-Russian separatists were aiming to open a new front, after government forces recaptured territory.
Tuesday’s summit in Belarus also came on the day that Kiev announced its forces captured 10 Russian soldiers.
President Putin suggested that they patrolled the border and may have found themselves on Ukrainian territory by accident.
However Western reporters and the NATO military alliance say they have monitored several Russian military columns entering Ukraine in recent days. Moscow has denied supporting the rebels.
And Putin told reporters in Minsk that it was for Kiev to work out a ceasefire, and peace deal, with Ukraine’s separatist rebels.
“We have talked about the need to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible, about the need to move towards a political settlement of the whole range of problems that Ukraine faces in the southeast of the country,” Putin stressed.
“On our side, Russia will do everything to help this peace process – if it starts, and we believe it should be started immediately,” he told journalists.
Putin also criticized Ukraine signing an association agreement with the 28-nation EU, instead of joining the Russian-led economy union, saying it could harm Russia’s economy.
While no breakthrough yet, the leaders at least held their first direct talks in months on a conflict that killed more than 2,000 civilians and over 700 soldiers, while displacing hundreds of thousands of people.