Russian aid trucks leave Ukraine

Move comes as Merkel pledges millions in loans to Ukrainian officials

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DONETSK, Rus­sia — Hun­dreds of Rus­sian aid trucks re­turned home from rebel-held east­ern Ukraine on Satur­day, high­light­ing a dire need for long-term as­sis­tance to the re­gion where homes and live­li­hoods have been de­stroyed by months of fight­ing.

Ahead of a much-an­tic­i­pated meet­ing Tues­day be­tween the pres­i­dents of Rus­sia and Ukraine, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel held talks in Kiev with Ukrain­ian of­fi­cials, pledged aid and ex­pressed hope for a peace­ful solu­tion to the con­flict that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Rus­sia uni­lat­er­ally sent hun­dreds of aid trucks into Ukraine through a rebel-held bor­der point Fri­day, say­ing it had lost pa­tience with Ukraine’s de­lay­ing tac­tics, a move that Ukraine promptly de­scribed as an in­va­sion.

By mid-af­ter­noon Satur­day, all the ve­hi­cles had re­turned to Rus­sia, Paul Pi­card of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe told re­port­ers in the Rus­sian town of Donetsk. A Rus­sian emer­gency of­fi­cial said 227 ve­hi­cles had taken part.

An As­soi­ated Press re­porter on the Ukrain­ian side of the bor­der was able to look in­side about 40 of the white-tar­pau­lined trac­tor-trail­ers and con­firmed they were empty. Rus­sia said the trucks car­ried only food, wa­ter, gen­er­a­tors and sleep­ing bags to the hard-hit rebel strong­hold of Lu­hansk.

Ukraine and oth­ers — in­clud­ing the U.S., the Euro­pean Union and NATO — de­nounced the Rus­sian move as a vi­o­la­tion of Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty. Kiev and Western coun­tries also sug­gested the con­voy could be smug­gling in sup­plies and re­in­force­ments to the pro-Rus­sian sep­a­rat­ists fight­ing the gov­ern­ment.

It re­mained un­clear what the Rus­sian con­voy had ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered, since it only ar­rived late Fri­day and un­load­ing all those trucks in just a few hours in a war zone rep­resents a siz­able task. AP jour­nal­ists fol­low­ing the con­voy said rat­tling sounds Fri­day in­di­cated many of the trucks were not fully loaded.

In towns and cit­ies re­cap­tured by Ukrain­ian forces from the reb­els, the need for some­thing more long-term than a one-time de­liv­ery of food and wa­ter is glar­ing. As­sis­tance has been trick­ling in from the gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional do­nors, but it is still not enough.

Res­i­dents in the city of Slovy­ansk, which en­dured a week­slong siege be­fore the reb­els left in July, were caught be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and the sep­a­rat­ists for sev­eral months and are now largely on their own af­ter dev­as­tat­ing ar­til­lery strikes.

Valerie Amos, who over­sees U.N. emer­gency as­sis­tance pro­grams, vis­ited Slovy­ansk on Satur­day to in­spect aid ef­forts.

“This is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult in some ar­eas in the east­ern part of the coun­try where there is on­go­ing fight­ing,” Ms. Amos said.

Reb­els have re­jected over­tures by au­thor­i­ties to pro­vide ter­ri­tory un­der their con­trol with much-needed aid.

Rows of burned-out houses on the north­ern fringes of Slovy­ansk stood as a re­minder of the im­pact of the fight­ing. Own­ers could be seen Satur­day clear­ing out the de­bris from their par­tially dam­aged or to­tally charred homes. Few seem con­fi­dent they will be able to re­pair their houses any­time soon.

One of the coun­tries pledg­ing aid to Ukraine is Ger­many. Ms. Merkel held talks with Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Petro Porosh­enko in Kiev on Satur­day and prom­ised $660 mil­lion in loan guar­an­tees to sup­port pri­vate in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture and schools in war-struck ar­eas.

Ms. Merkel urged a po­lit­i­cal solu­tion to the cri­sis three days be­fore Mr. Porosh­enko will be meet­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Minsk in their first en­coun­ter since June. Ms. Merkel said she was look­ing for­ward to the out­come of those talks and ex­pressed “hope that at least a step for­ward will be reached there.”

Mr. Porosh­enko said Ukraine is anx­ious to bring peace as soon as pos­si­ble and solve the con­flict by ne­go­ti­a­tions, but “not at the ex­pense of sov­er­eignty, ter­ri­to­rial in­teg­rity and in­de­pen­dence of Ukraine.”

Asked what mes­sage he in­tended to con­vey to Mr. Putin, Mr. Porosh­enko said “take away your armed peo­ple from our ter­ri­tory and I can prom­ise peace will come to Ukraine very soon.”


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