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Ukraine

Ukraine soldiers advance on separatist Donetsk

Ukrainian troops are besieging the strategic strongholds of separatists in the east. The situation is deteriorating rapidly for civilians.

Ukraine's military has attacked the two most important rebel-held cities in the east of the country. Pro-Kyiv soldiers captured most of the town of Ilovaysk near Donetsk, according to government officials.

Under mortar fire on August 19, a volunteer battalion lost one soldier and saw four wounded in the clash 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the rebel stronghold. One of the wounded was the commander of the battalion and cult hero, Semyon Semenchenko, who claims that the military also destroyed three rebel checkpoints.

A burnt out house in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk

A house in Donetsk after intense shelling around the city

President Petro Poroshenko seemed confident that an end to the war could be in sight, saying in a television briefing that Kyiv sees a "clear diplomatic roadmap" ahead. Valery Chaly, Poroshenko's deputy chief of staff, added that the coming two weeks "will be crucial for finding the way to move from war to peace."

The government's strategy to encircle Donetsk, the headquarters of the rebellion, has led to the recapture of significant portions of territory taken by separatists since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in April. With living conditions in many rebel-held areas dire, some households without electricity and running water for weeks, the separatists appear to be greatly weakened.

A meeting is planned for next week between Ukraine's Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. This follows an August 15 meeting in Sochi between Putin's and Poroshenko's chiefs of staff after several top separatist leaders resigned.

Ostukraine Krise Donezk 18.08.2014

Civilians line up for water in Donetsk

National Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said government troops also captured a neighborhood in Luhansk, another rebel-controlled city. Both sides have leveled unconfirmed accusations of civilian casualities. A resident of a village near Donetsk, who asked to be identified only as Tatyana for fear of reprisal, claimed that the Ukrainian military is firing artillery from fields near her house and that several homes in her village have been hit by return fire.

Thus far the conflict has displaced 344,000 people and killed more than 2,000.

es/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa)

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