Russian aid convoy halted as access doubts remain

The Russian humanitarian aid trucks stand idle at a military base in Voronezh while discussions about their route into Ukraine continue. Picture: Getty
The Russian humanitarian aid trucks stand idle at a military base in Voronezh while discussions about their route into Ukraine continue. Picture: Getty
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HUNDREDS of Russian trucks carrying aid intended for rebel-held eastern Ukraine remained parked in the southern city of Voronezh yesterday as doubts grew over the convoy’s final route.

The white-tarpaulined vehicles lay idle at a military base in Voronezh after driving there from the outskirts of Moscow the day before.

Ukraine and Russia have tentatively agreed that the aid will be delivered to a government-controlled crossing in Ukraine’s Kharkiv province, which has not been touched by the months of fighting that have wracked neighbouring regions. However, it remained unclear yesterday whether the convoy would take that route.

Amid the tensions, Russian president Vladimir Putin travelled to Crimea, where he was to chair a session of his security council.

A key sticking point for Ukraine is that all incoming humanitarian aid must be vetted by the International Red Cross. Officials in Kiev said the aid cargo could be unloaded at the border and loaded on to vehicles leased by the Red Cross. But Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said while the unloading idea had come under discussion, it was rejected for cost reasons.

The estimated 2,000 tonnes of aid, which is said to include goods ranging from baby food to portable generators, is ­intended for civilians in the ­Luhansk region, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting ­between government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

The regional capital of Luhansk has had no electricity for 11 days and only the most essential goods are available, city authorities said.

Intense fighting continued in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk. At least 12 militiamen fighting alongside government troops were killed in an ambush outside the besieged city, a spokesman for their radical nationalist movement said.

Inside the city, at least three people were killed overnight as the government intensified its shelling.

Artem Skoropatsky said the Right Sector volunteer fighters were shot dead while travelling on a bus, and many others on the bus were wounded and taken captive. He did not know how many.

Right Sector played a marginal if highly visible role in the protests that culminated in the overthrow of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in February. Its far-right nationalist affiliations have made it a target of lurid reporting in Russia state media, which has sought to cast the post-Yanukovych government as extremists.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security and defence council, said yesterday that 11 servicemen were killed in the previous day’s fighting, but he could not say whether that figure included the Right Sector militiamen.

Government troops have laid siege to Donetsk and nearby rebel holdings in their push to quash the pro-Russian insurgency. They have largely refrained from street-to-street fighting, ­favouring often inaccurate rocket fire.

Residents said the intermittent artillery barrage lasted about two hours. City authorities reported three deaths and said ten residential buildings and the wing of a hospital were struck.