As Kiev attacks city, rebels call on Putin

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DONETSK, Ukraine -- Fighting raged Sunday on the western outskirts of Donetsk as the advancing Ukrainian army tried to seize control of the rebel stronghold. In danger of being encircled, the separatists renewed their calls for Russia to send troops to their aid.

To support their operations, the pro-Russian fighters have been confiscating vehicles and food from residents and businesses in Donetsk. The center of the major industrial city is all but deserted, with few people or cars on the streets and most stores and restaurants closed.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation, Alexei Dmitrashkovsky, told The Associated Press that government soldiers were fighting Sunday to hold positions they had taken on the edge of Donetsk, but were meeting resistance.

Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed governor of the separatist Donetsk region, said the rebels would win quickly if Russia sent troops.

"Of course it would be great to see Russian peacekeepers here: strong artillery units, tank brigades," Mr. Gubarev said. "This war would be over in a day, maybe two."

Ukraine and the West say they have evidence that Russia is arming the separatists. Russia denies this and describes the Russian citizens fighting in eastern Ukraine as volunteers.

If he is unable to win such a compromise and the Ukrainian army continues to take back rebel-held cities and towns, Mr. Putin may come under increased pressure to intervene militarily.

International lenders are weighing the political and financial consequences of doing business with Russian companies after the U.S. and European Union stepped up sanctions on the nation's banking and energy industries because of the crisis in Ukraine.

No Russian companies received loans in U.S. dollars, Swiss francs or euros last month, the first time this has happened in at least five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Global banks fell away in the second quarter, with lending plunging 42 percent from a year earlier to $4.7 billion as the Ukraine conflict worsened after Mr. Putin annexed Crimea in March.

That was the least for any quarter since 2012.

Also, Dobrolet, a low-cost subsidiary of the Russian state carrier Aeroflot announced Sunday that it would suspend all flights as a result of sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union.

Many Donetsk residents have counted on help from Russia.

"What is Putin waiting for? He inspired us to fight," said Ilya Sumyatin, a 38-year-old separatist fighter. "We had hoped for help from Russia, but we have been abandoned. Our strength is nearing an end and the Ukrainian army is advancing."

The separatist fighters in Donetsk have proclaimed the right to confiscate any "strategically important resources" to support their operations.

The ongoing battles had delayed the start of an international search for body parts still lying in the fields where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down July 17 with 298 people on board.

Dutch and Australian experts were able to begin their search Friday. Early Sunday, the remains and personal belongings they had found so far were delivered in refrigerated trucks to the city of Kharkiv. The recovered remains will be checked there before being flown to the Netherlands.


Bloomberg News and The New York Times contributed.

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