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Trucks with Russian aid reach Lugansk, E. Ukraine

Published time: August 22, 2014 07:49
Edited time: September 06, 2014 10:26

Trucks of a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine, August, 22, 2014 (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

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Moscow has accused Kiev of placing political interests above humanism, adding that it is confident it made the right decision to order a convoy with Russian humanitarian aid to proceed to the conflict zone without waiting for further Ukrainian permission.

Russian Red Cross volunteers ready to escort aid convoy to Lugansk, E. Ukraine

The Russian aid convoy on Friday finally reached Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, which has been devastated by repeated shelling. White Kamaz trucks delivered essentials such as food, water, medications, sleeping bags, and electric generators.

Twenty-four aid distribution centers have been set up in the city, 12 of which will open on Saturday morning, according to the administration of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Lugansk.

“Pensioners, families where both parents work in the public sector, refugees who suffered from shelling, the disabled and hospital patients will be the first to receive the aid,” said Oleg Tsaryov, the speaker for the parliament of the Union of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics.

Part of the Russian humanitarian aid may be sent to the neighboring Donetsk region, which has also been heavily hit by the ongoing violence.

Thorny path to Lugansk

The Russian convoy to Ukraine left Moscow on August 12, and then got stuck at the Ukrainian border for a week as Kiev postponed its final approval for the trucks loaded with humanitarian cargo to cross into the country for various reasons.

Over this period, the Russian side made “unprecedented efforts in all areas and at all levels” in order to complete the required formalities, and met all of Kiev’s “conceivable and inconceivable” demands, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Friday statement.

“Time and again, we met requests to check and recheck the shipment route, to coordinate procedures for the shipment’s delivery, and have signed the required documents with the ICRC,” it read.

On Friday, Moscow accused Kiev of deliberately delaying the aid delivery and ordered its convoy to start moving towards Lugansk.

“It is no longer possible to tolerate this lawlessness, outright lies and inability to reach agreements,” the foreign ministry said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which under the initial plan was to escort the convoy – could not comply due to security concerns.

“That’s because of the problems with security,” Galina Balzamova of the ICRC told RT. “Lugansk was shelled all night long. We believe we did not get sufficient guarantees of safety from all the parties to the conflict to start escorting the convoy.”

The head of the Russian Red Cross, Raisa Lukutsova, said the organization supported the decision to get the humanitarian convoy moving.

“The fact that the humanitarian mission has started – this has probably been the right decision,” Lukutsova said. “For how long do we have to put up with this mockery? They put forward one demand after another. All of them unrealistic.”

ICRC confirmed that people in areas affected by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine are in “urgent need for essentials like food and medical supplies.”

The group also reiterated it is “ready to help” the people of Lugansk, urging both Ukraine and Russia “to respect the neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action of the ICRC.”

Solace for the struggling: E. Ukrainians without water, food crave Russian aid

The humanitarian crisis is particularly acute in Lugansk, where people have gone for weeks without water and electricity and have to queue every day for whatever scarce food supplies are brought to the city.

Outcry over humanitarian aid?

But Moscow’s move has triggered an outcry in Kiev.

“We call it a direct invasion,” Ukraine's intelligence (SBU) chief, Valentyn Nalivaychenko told journalists. “Under the cynical cover of the Red Cross these are military vehicles with documents to cover them up.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of “smuggling humanitarian aid to Ukraine” and said it had to allow the convoy to pass.

“To avoid provocations we have given all the necessary orders to let the convoy pass safely,” the ministry’s statement said.

Russia, in response to criticism by Kiev officials, stressed it has always acted within the framework of international law.

“We are acting in full compliance with the norms of international humanitarian law. We can no longer and will not accept the distress of residents living in the southeastern Ukraine,” said Sergey Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister.

Kiev authorities were “making up” countless bureaucratic hurdles, “the crossing of which appeared to be more difficult than for our trucks to travel down the road damaged by Ukrainian shelling,” the official added.

In Moscow’s view, Kiev authorities attempted to buy time and finish the military operation oppressing “their own people” in the area “where Russian humanitarian aid is being distributed.” However, Ryabkov added, they failed to do so.

“We are confident that we are right. And we accuse Kiev and countries that support it that over and over again they have been placing their political – as a matter of fact anti-Russian – interests above established norms of humanism and compassion,” Ryabkov said.

“Kiev insinuations” would be followed by “similarly hypocritical” lecturing from other capitals, the diplomat observed. And that appeared to be exactly the scenario.

Local residents stand near buildings damaged during shelling on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk August 3, 2014. (Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

Kiev’s stance was first echoed by the EU, who labeled Moscow’s decision to order the convoy to go ahead without Kiev’s consent “a clear violation of the Ukrainian border.”

The US accused Russia of “a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity” and called on Moscow to withdraw its convoy.

“Russia must remove its vehicles and its personnel from the territory of Ukraine immediately. Failure to do so will result in additional costs and isolation,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told a briefing, Reuters reported.

NATO has also joined the chorus of condemnation, with the alliance's chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, saying in a statement that Moscow’s move “can only deepen the crisis in the region, which Russia itself has created and has continued to fuel.”

Russia’s envoy to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said such comments by the bloc’s chief can lead only to one conclusion: they are “completely indifferent” to the humanitarian disaster in east Ukraine and are “not interested” in the earliest settlement to the crisis.

“On the contrary, despite everything, indulgence to Kiev’s criminal suppression of its own people continues,” he told Itar-Tass.

Ukraine agreed to let the convoy pass during an August 20 phone call between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers. That conversation gave a start to customs procedures for checking and registering the contents of the trucks comprising the convoy.

The next day the process was halted by Ukraine, citing intensified shelling of Lugansk.

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