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Ukraine Forces Try to Retake Donetsk   07/26 12:09

   Ukrainian officials said their forces advanced to the outskirts of a key 
town north of Donetsk on Saturday as they try to retake the stronghold held for 
months by pro-Russia rebels.

   DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian officials said their forces advanced to 
the outskirts of a key town north of Donetsk on Saturday as they try to retake 
the stronghold held for months by pro-Russia rebels.

   The move comes as Ukrainian forces appear to have gained some momentum 
recently by retaking control of territory from the rebels. But Russia also 
appears to becoming more involved in the fighting, with the U.S. and Ukraine 
accusing Moscow of moving heavily artillery across the border to the rebels.

   Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Ukrainian forces 
were outside Horlikva, just north of the regional center of Donetsk.

   Once they can take Horlivka, "the direct route is open for the forces of the 
anti-terrorist operation to the capital of the Donbass region --- the city of 
Donetsk," Lysenko said. "The approaches to Donetsk are being blocked so that 
the terrorists do not get the chance to receive ammunition, reinforcements or 
equipment."

   Donetsk, a city of about 1 million people, is a major center of the 
separatist uprising that has battled Ukrainian government forces for five 
months.

   An Associated Press reporter found the highway north of Donetsk blocked by 
rebels and heard the sound of artillery to the north. Explosions were heard in 
the direction of the town's airport, on the northwest edge of the city, an area 
frequently contested by Ukrainian forces and rebels. Black smoke rose from the 
direction of Yakovlikva, a northern suburb of Donetsk.

   About 35 miles (60 kilometers) to the east, the site where Malaysia Airlines 
Flight 17 was shot down was still eerily empty except for the parents of one of 
the 298 people killed in the July 17 accident. Nine days after the accident, a 
full-fledged investigation still hasn't started due to the security risks posed 
by the nearby fighting.

   But Jerzy Dyczynski and Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski, parents of 25-year-old 
Fatima, travelled from their home in Perth, Australia to honor their daughter. 
They crossed territory held by pro-Russian rebels to reach the wreckage-strewn 
fields outside the village of Hrabove, where they sat together on part of the 
wreckage, his arm around her shoulder.

   Fatima "was for peace. She will be forever for peace," her father said.

   U.S. and Ukrainian officials say the plane was shot down by a missile from 
rebel territory, most likely by mistake.

   Two military cargo planes, one Dutch and the other Australian, also flew 38 
more coffins carrying victims to the Netherlands for identification and 
investigation.

   The planes took off Saturday from Kharkiv, a government-controlled city 
where the bodies have been brought from the wreckage site in territory held by 
pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian government. They landed later in 
the afternoon in Eindhoven, where the coffins were transferred to a fleet of 
hearses in a solemn ceremony.

   Officials said the flights took the last of the 227 coffins containing 
victims that had been brought to Kharkiv by refrigerated train. Officials say 
the exact number of people held in the coffins is still to be determined by 
forensic experts in the Netherlands, where Ukraine agreed to send the bodies. 
International observers have said there are still remains at the wreckage site. 
Access has been limited due to rebel interference and security concerns.

   The disaster sparked hopes in the West that Russia would scale back its 
involvement in the uprising in Ukraine's east, but nine days later the opposite 
seems to be the case.

   Russia launched artillery attacks from its soil into Ukraine on Friday, 
while the United States said it has seen powerful rocket systems moving closer 
to the Ukraine border.

   Those accusations sparked a strong denial from Moscow, which accuses the 
U.S. of a smear campaign.

   The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States on Saturday of 
conducting "an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more 
relying on open lies."

   The ministry took particular issue with comments Friday by White House 
spokesman Josh Earnest, who said Washington regards Moscow as involved in the 
shooting down of the airliner because it allegedly has supplied missile systems 
to the rebels and trained them on how to use them.

   The ministry complained that these allegations have not been backed up with 
public evidence and it sneered at Earnest for saying they are supported by 
claims on social media.

   "In other words, the Washington regime is basing its contentions on 
anti-Russian speculation gathered from the Internet that does not correspond to 
reality," it said.

   Russia also lashed out at the latest round of Ukraine-related sanctions 
imposed by the European Union, saying they endanger the fight against 
international terrorism.

   The EU sanctions, announced on Friday, impose travel bans and asset freezes 
on 15 people, including the head of Russia's Federal Security Service and the 
head of the agency's department overseeing international operations and 
intelligence. Four members of Russia's national security council are also on 
the list.

   The Foreign Ministry said the sanctions show the EU is taking "a complete 
turn away from joint work with Russia on international and regional security, 
including the fight against the spread of weapons of mass destruction, 
terrorism (and) organized crime."

   "We are sure the decisions will be greeted enthusiastically by international 
terrorists," the ministry said.

   Meanwhile, CNN reported that a Ukrainian freelancer who had been detained by 
separatists was freed on Saturday. The journalist, Anton Skiba, was seized 
Tuesday in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk when he and other members of a 
TV crew returned to a hotel after working at the site of the downed Malaysian 
airliner.

   A day earlier, the anti-Kremlin newspaper Novaya Gazeta ran a full 
front-page photo of a cortege of hearses with the headline in Dutch and Russian 
saying: "Forgive us, Holland."


(KA)


 
 
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