By Alan Cullison and James Marson
President Petro Poroshenko declared an end to a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and announced the launch of an attack late Monday to “liberate our land” from pro-Russia rebels, ignoring pressure from Moscow to extend the 10-day-old truce.
After a meeting with his security chiefs, Poroshenko said he had decided to suspend the cease-fire, which expired Monday night, and ordered the military to restart its operation.
“We will attack and liberate our land. Not renewing the cease-fire is our response to terrorists, militants, looters, all of those who are tormenting the local population, paralyzing the region’s economy, preventing payment of salaries, pensions and grants, blowing up the railway, destroying water pipes, depriving people of normal peaceful life,” he said on the presidential website.
Near the Ukrainian army’s command center near the eastern town of Izyum, troops appeared to be gearing up for an offensive against the rebels.
For days, heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers have been visible on the roads near Izyum rumbling toward front lines near the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk. On Monday, a convoy of more than a dozen heavy trucks carrying heavy multiple-rocket launchers passed through the city.
Trucks carrying heavy artillery continued to move through Izyum toward rebel lines as the cease-fire formally ended, and a firefight lighted up the horizon southwest of the city.
Officials at the Ukrainian army headquarters declined to comment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had urged Poroshenko to prolong the cease-fire in a conference call earlier in the day with the German and French leaders.
But Poroshenko told Putin and the other two leaders that previous cease-fire agreements hadn’t been fulfilled, apparently referring to Russia’s failure to help Ukraine secure its border or publicly call on the rebels to lay down their weapons.
Troops near the front lines have complained that the latest cease-fire, initially declared 10 days ago, has been advantageous to the rebels, who have been able to use the relative quiet to dig in further and take potshots at their positions.
Porous front lines have made life at forward bases hazardous. At a Ukrainian base near Slovyansk on Monday, soldiers fired into surrounding countryside in all directions amid fears that rebels were encroaching.
Officials say that rebels have been amassing armor of their own in Slovyansk, and may have enough to stage a significant assault to break out of the Ukrainian army’s efforts to encircle the city.
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