World

Ukraine's leader pushes for international peacekeeping mission

Ukraine's president signed a decree Monday opening the way to a formal request for international peacekeepers to be stationed in eastern regions where government forces are battling Russian-backed separatists.

UN says death toll since start of eastern Ukraine crisis tops 6,000

A Ukrainian tank sits destroyed in an entrenched battlefield where the Ukrainian army was defeated by pro-Russian rebels on the outskirts of Debaltseve, Ukraine. In a new report the United Nations announced over 6,000 people have been killed since the armed conflict started last April. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images )

Ukraine's president signed a decree Monday opening the way to a formal request for international peacekeepers to be stationed in eastern regions where government forces are battling Russian-backed separatists.

President Petro Poroshenko's office said the appeal for a contingent of peacekeepers will be addressed to the United Nations and the European Union. His office gave no specific details on the mission's composition or any timetable for it but Russia is strongly against the idea.

Fighting has waned substantially in eastern Ukraine in recent days as a ceasefire deal forged last month increasingly takes effect, but both sides have complained of sporadic violations.

Military spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said Monday that one serviceman was killed and another four were wounded over the previous day. He did not specify the circumstances of those casualties.

The UN human rights office has raised its toll of the fighting, saying more than 6,000 people have died since the conflict began in April.

Under the terms of the ceasefire accord, the warring sides must pull back their heavy weaponry by distances of between 50 kilometres and 140 kilometres from the front line. That drawback started last week, although progress has been uncertain.

Separatist military spokesman Eduard Basurin said Sunday that rebels have pulled back all their weaponry as stipulated in the peace agreement. That claim has yet to be confirmed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is overseeing the withdrawal process.

Lysenko accused separatists of making a show of drawing back weapons only to return them to their original front line positions at night. He said Ukrainian troops would continue their own withdrawals only if the situation did not worsen.

"But it is too early to talk about this as every day we see violations of the ceasefire, including with the use of heavy weapons that the militants ought to have withdrawn," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with his Russian counterpart in Geneva in what appeared to be less than amicable talks amid the continuing tensions over Ukraine. Neither man smiled or spoke substantively as they shook hands at the start of the talks, which took place less than a week after Kerry told Congress that Russian officials have lied "to my face" about Moscow's role in Ukraine.

That comment drew a rebuke from the Russian foreign ministry. U.S. officials have pointed out that Kerry did not specifically accuse Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of lying to him.

An elderly woman looks as bread, baked by Russia-backed separatists, is brought to be delivered to residents in Chornukhyne, Ukraine on Monday. The conflict has led to a 'merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure,' the UN human rights office said Monday. (Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

While Russia denies its troops are fighting in Ukraine, the UN has cited "credible reports (that) indicate a continuing flow of heavy weaponry and foreign fighters" from Russia.

Ukraine has been steadily intensifying its war-readiness since the conflict in the east broke and has embarked on numerous waves of partial military mobilizations.

On Monday, Poroshenko presented legislation to parliament to boost the size of the country's armed forces to 250,000.

Interfax-Ukraine news agency cited Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as saying last week that boosting the size of the army to that amount would require enlisting an additional 68,000 troops.

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