Ukraine tensions smoulder as Kiev talks begin

Donetsk, Ukraine: The comparison is crude, but the civil war in Ukraine is going better than are the talks aimed at averting it.

Abandoned on a rutted road near the village of Dmitrievka, an hour’s drive north of Donetsk, the smouldering remains of a Ukrainian government armoured personnel carrier and a truck-mounted cannon were testimony to daring military planning and execution by separatist fighters who now claim control of a swath of the east of the country.

As talks aimed at some kind of power sharing got off to a shaky start in Kiev,  the scene of Tuesday’s attack - in which seven national servicemen were incinerated and as many more were injured - was being tidied up  by a handful of locals who were getting their fingers burnt as they scavenged in the still-hot wreckage.

The Kiev forces had carelessly made frequent use of a causeway that cuts across a long narrow lake. And on Tuesday separatist fighters were lying in wait in trees and tall grass that shroud a steep incline by which the convoy dropped down to the causeway. Their rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire took out the first and last vehicles of what was believed to be a four-vehicle supply convoy.

None of the locals would be named or photographed. But those who had military experience marvelled at the precision of the separatists’ targeting, which disabled the two vehicles. Ablaze, they managed to straggle across the 100 metre-long causeway, with one of the undamaged vehicles pushing the armoured personnel carrier ahead of it, a farmer said.

Both vehicles were abandoned and two national army helicopters put down in a nearby field, to collect the dead and wounded and to evacuate the survivors who were unable to clear the area on the other two vehicles.

On Wednesday most farming families in the area remained indoors. Their cattle and goats were tethered near the charred hulks, where the only items not incinerated appeared to be several pairs of gloves and several foil packages of medicinal drugs.

The heat of the blaze was so intense that metal sections of the vehicle melted – but the farmer said that the driver of the vehicle survived the incident, which was the national army’s single greatest loss since the start of the conflict.

The separatists, who have control of Slaviansk, a nearby town, and who occupy government buildings in a dozen other centres, lost a single fighter in the assault.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s interim government held a first round of talks on devolving power to the provinces on Wednesday – but the pro-Russian separatists were not present and the rhetoric of participants suggested that the dialogue is not likely to take the heat out of a crisis that has paralysed the country for six months.

Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk confined his opening comments to a promise to fight graft and an appeal for unity. Ignoring  the proclaimed results from secessionist referendums in the east last weekend, he said: ''To fight corruption and provide people with jobs is our main task … and that will unite our country.''

Delegates to the talks from the east included Oleksandr Yefremov, a Member of Parliament and former governor of the Luhansk region, who said that he expected more of a presence from his region. He told the gathering at the national parliament building: ''We have people who think differently, who have different culture, and we have a responsibility to create a state that corresponds to the needs of our people.''

Serhiy Taruta, recently appointed by Kiev as governor of Donetsk, another embattled eastern region, was there, but like most others who were present he is aligned with the central government.

The mayor of Donetsk, Alexander Lukyanchenko, who does have credibility in the east, warned that the results of Sunday’s referenda demonstrated a genuine lack of faith in the Kiev government. And Serhiy Tihipko, a candidate for the May 25 presidential election, called for the talks be held in the east of the country – ''today, we don’t understand what the east wants", he said.

Fairfax Media

The story Ukraine tensions smoulder as Kiev talks begin first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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