HUFFINGTON POST
09/06/2014 07:23 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2014

Ukraine Ceasefire Holds Despite Mistrust Between Rebels, Kiev

ANATOLII STEPANOV via Getty Images

By Gabriela Baczynska and Aleksandar Vasovic

DONESTSK/MARIUPOL, Ukraine, Sept 6 (Reuters) - An uneasy calm prevailed in eastern Ukraine on Saturday after Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists signed a ceasefire as part of a drive to end a war that has triggered a deep crisis in relations between Russia and the West.

The peace roadmap, approved by envoys in Minsk on Friday, includes the exchange of prisoners-of-war. A separatist leader said this process would begin later on Saturday, though the Ukrainian side said details were still being worked out.

The two sides remain far apart on the future status of the rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine and both residents and combatants said they did not expect the ceasefire to last long, but there were no reports of serious violations on Saturday.

"The forces of the anti-terrorist operation support the ceasefire and are closely observing the order of the commander-in-chief," the spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a daily briefing in Kiev.

In rebel-held Donetsk, the region's industrial hub with a pre-war population of about one million, separatist commanders said they did not believe the five-month war was over.

"The ceasefire is looking good for now but we know they (the Ukrainian side) are only using it to bring in more forces here and ammunition and then to hit us with renewed strength," said one rebel commander known by his nickname Montana.

"Come what may, I would not trust (Ukraine's President Petro) Poroshenko. And it's not him making the call anyway but the Americans and that is even worse."

Poroshenko agreed to the ceasefire after Ukraine accused Russia of sending troops and arms onto its territory in support of the separatists, who had suffered big losses over the summer. Moscow denies sending troops or arming the rebels.

"I am sure that Ukraine as a state and I as leader of that state are doing everything possible to achieve peace in our country," Poroshenko said in an interview for the BBC's 'Hard Talk' program broadcast late on Friday.

He was speaking after attending a two-day NATO summit in Wales at which U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders urged Russia to pull its forces out of Ukraine. NATO also approved wide-ranging plans to boost its defenses in eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Obama said he was skeptical that the separatists in eastern Ukraine would deliver on their ceasefire obligations.

SANCTIONS

The European Union announced new economic sanctions against Russia late on Friday over its role in Ukraine but said they could be suspended if Moscow withdraws its troops and observes the conditions of the ceasefire.

Russia's foreign ministry responded angrily on Saturday to the measures, pledging unspecified "reaction" if they were implemented. Moscow responded to a previous round of U.S. and EU sanctions by banning most Western food imports.

The prime minister of the rebels' self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic", Alexander Zakharchenko, said his side would hand over its POWs to Ukraine on Saturday.

"We hope that on Monday Ukraine will hand over its POWs," he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying in Moscow.

Ukraine's Lysenko said his side wanted the exchange to take place "as fast as possible" but gave no timeframe. He said the rebels were holding more than 200 Ukrainians captive.

The peace deal, approved in Minsk by envoys from Ukraine, the separatist leadership, Russia and Europe's OSCE security watchdog, also envisages the creation of a humanitarian corridor for refugees and aid.

Before the ceasefire, fighting had raged for days on the outskirts of Donetsk, especially near the airport, which remains in government hands, and also around the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, where government forces have been trying to repel a major rebel offensive Kiev says was backed by Russian troops.

All was quiet on Saturday in and around Mariupol, whose port is crucial for Ukraine's steel exports.

"Many of my men had their first good sleep in days," said one Ukrainian army officer. "I certainly slept well."

In Donetsk, some residents complained of sporadic shelling overnight.

"I don't know what ceasefire we are talking of if there was shooting again. This is no ceasefire but a theater," said Donetsk resident Ksenia.

"This war will go on for five to nine years. Slavs are killing Slavs, there can be nothing worse than that." (Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

09/06/2014 6:08 PM EDT

Factory Ablaze After Artillery Fire Near Mariupol

Reuters reports:

Prolonged artillery fire was heard late on Saturday to the east of the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters reporter said, in what may be the first significant violation of a ceasefire declared little more than 24 hours earlier.

The reporter saw an industrial facility, a truck and a gas station ablaze in an area within the limits of Mariupol, a city of 500,000 people on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border.

The area had seen fierce fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists before the ceasefire took effect on Friday evening. It had been quiet since then until the artillery fire began late on Saturday.

"There has been an artillery attack. We received a number of impacts, we have no information about casualties," a Ukrainian officer told Reuters at the scene.

09/06/2014 6:03 PM EDT

Ukraine Battalion: Reports Of Civilian Casualties In Shelling

09/06/2014 6:00 PM EDT

#RussiaViolatedCeasefire Trends On Twitter

Twitter users are using the hashtag #RussiaViolatedCeasefire to blame Moscow for renewed violence in east Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian Ambassador to Sweden Eitvydas Bajarunas used the hashtag for call for more information, as rockets and shelling were reported in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

09/06/2014 5:43 PM EDT

Rockets Fired In Ukraine Amid Ceasefire

The Associated Press reports:

Witnesses in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are reporting sustained explosions outside the city and a volunteer battalion of Ukrainian fighters says Grad rockets are being fired at its positions.

The reports Saturday night come little more than a day after Ukraine and Russian-backed separatist rebels signed a cease-fire after more than four months of fighting in the country's east.

The cease-fire had appeared to largely been holding during much of the day.

But late Saturday, witnesses in Mariupol told The Associated Press by telephone that heavy explosions were coming from the city's eastern outskirts, where Ukrainian troops retain defensive lines against the rebels.

The volunteer Azov Battalion said on Facebook that their positions were hit by Grad rockets, but did not give details.

09/06/2014 4:49 PM EDT

Reports Of Shelling In Mariupol

BBC journalists Fergal Keane and Will Vernon in Ukraine's Mariupol say that shelling of the port city has resumed.

09/06/2014 12:21 PM EDT

ICRC Says Aid Trucks Forced Back By Shelling

The International Committee of the Red Cross said its aid trucks were forced to turn back on Saturday morning due to shelling in east Ukraine.

09/06/2014 10:59 AM EDT

Putin, Poroshenko Agree Cease-Fire Holding

Reuters reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko agreed on Saturday in a telephone call that a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was generally holding but said further steps were needed to make it more durable.

The ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists took effect on Friday evening, part of a wider peace plan aimed at ending five months of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

"(The two leaders) also stressed the need for the maximum involvement of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in monitoring the situation ... and for cooperation in providing Ukrainian and international humanitarian help," Poroshenko's office said in a statement.

09/06/2014 10:58 AM EDT

Rebel Leader: Prisoner Exchange To Take Place Saturday

A separatist leader said that the rebels and Ukrainian government will begin the exchange of prisoners of war, part of the peace roadmap, later on Saturday, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Kiev said the details of the exchange were still being worked out.

09/05/2014 12:38 PM EDT

Peace Deal Outlined

New York Times Moscow bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar outlines the different aspects of the Ukrainian peace deal.

09/05/2014 12:18 PM EDT

Obama: Hopeful But Skeptical

Via Reuters:

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was hopeful but skeptical about a ceasefire agreed in Ukraine on Friday and urged European allies to agree on new sanctions against Russia that could be suspended if the peace plan holds.

He also said he was leaving a two-day NATO summit in Wales confident that U.S. allies were prepared to join a broad coalition to take action to degrade and ultimately destroy Islamic State militants in Iraq.

"We also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences. Today the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia's financial, energy and defense sectors," Obama told a news conference.

NATO had made clear it would defend every ally, and that it supported Ukraine's sovereignty against what he called Russian aggression, he said.

"With respect to the ceasefire agreement, obviously we are hopeful but based on past experience also skeptical that in fact the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. So it has to be tested," the president said.