Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have announced a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine starting with February 15.
“We have managed to agree on the main issues,” Vladimir Putin said after marathon talks with Petro Poroshenko, as well German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Minsk, Belarus.
President Francois Hollande said it was a “serious deal” but not everything had been agreed.
Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting in the east of Ukraine.
The meeting in Belarus – which began on February 11 – was focused on securing a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and creating a demilitarized zone in Eastern Ukraine.
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Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk regions – have announced 89% and 96% respectively voted in favor of “self-rule”.
Ukraine has condemned two unofficial referendums organized in the east of the country as “a farce” with no legal basis.
Russia has called for the results to be implemented without any further outbreaks of violence.
In a brief statement, the Kremlin described the referendums as “the will of the people” and noted the “high turnout”.
Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk say 89 percent and 96 percent respectively voted in favor of self-rule (photo Getty Images)
The Russian authorities said they expected the results of the vote to be implemented in a civilized manner, without any repetition of violence and called for dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Kremlin suggested that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) could help organize such a dialogue.
Later Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there were no plans to hold fresh international talks on the crisis – he accused the West of an “information blockade” over events in Ukraine and of “shameless lies”.
Earlier, Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov told Ukraine’s parliament that “the farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes”.
The EU and US also said the polls were illegal.
A number of towns in the two eastern regions refused to hold the referendums.
They were held despite an earlier call by Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay them in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue.
After the first round of voting in which voters were asked whether they supported self-rule, a second round of voting is planned in a week’s time, asking whether people support joining Russia.
Organizers also say they will boycott Ukraine’s presidential elections on May 25.
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National guardsmen fired on a crowd Sunday in eastern Ukraine, where voters were lining up for a disputed referendum on whether to split from rest of the country.
Eastern Ukraine referendums seek approval to declare sovereign the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (photo CBC)
An insurgent leader was quoted by the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass as saying that there were fatalities.
The Associated Press reported that one of its photographers witnessed the shooting, in the town of Krasnoarmeisk, where dozens of guardsmen had shut down voting earlier in the day.
The photographer saw two people motionless on the ground, the AP reported.
Eastern Ukraine referendums seek approval to declare sovereign the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have taken control of government buildings and clashed with Ukrainian troops.
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Pro-Russian separatists have stormed the regional administration’s headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk.
A few dozen men, some reportedly armed with metal bars, smashed windows and doors to break into the building.
Activists shouting “Referendum Russia” later flew a Russian flag over it.
Earlier, Russia criticized sanctions imposed by the US and EU on individuals and companies over their alleged actions aimed at destabilizing Ukraine.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US had “essentially lowered an <<Iron Curtain>>” by targeting Russia’s high-tech sector.
The EU, he added, had proved that it was “under Washington’s thumb”.
Pro-Russian separatists have stormed the regional administration’s headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk (photo AFP)
Russia’s Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin meanwhile warned that if the sanctions affected its rocket-building sector, US astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) might be “exposed”.
Sergei Ryabkov also stressed that Russia had no intention of invading eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia activists have seized government buildings in more than a dozen towns and cities.
Until now, only the local office of the State Security Service (SBU) in Luhansk, a city of 465,000 people less than 20 miles from the Russian border, had been targeted.
But on Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of the regional government to demand a referendum on granting greater autonomy to the east.
A group of men armed with sticks and metal bars broke into the building, whose entrances were not protected by police. They then pulled down the Ukrainian flag flying from the roof and replaced it with a Russian one, and opened the main entrance to the crowd.
Inside the building’s courtyard, they found security personnel in riot gear massed in a defensive position. There was a stand-off, but no violence.
“The regional leadership does not control its police force,” Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to the interior minister in Kiev, told Reuters news agency.
“The local police did nothing.”
Stanislav Rechynsky added that the government had information to suggest that the separatists would now seize the local television centre.
Eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population, was a stronghold for former President Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by protesters in February.
The interim government has rejected the pro-Russian activists’ demands for greater autonomy, fearing they could lead to the break-up of the country or more regions being annexed by Russia, as happened with Crimea last month.
Pro-Russian activists continue to detain some 40 people, including seven military observers linked to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) seized last week.
The self-styled “mayor” of the town of Sloviansk, where the observers are being held, has said he will discuss their release only if the EU drops sanctions against separatist leaders.
On Tuesday, the EU published a fresh list of 15 individuals facing travel banks and asset freezes.
It included General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Lt. Gen. Igor Sergun, identified as the head of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU.
Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak and pro-Russian separatist leaders in Crimea and in Luhansk and Donetsk were also named.
On Monday, the US announced sanctions against seven individuals and 17 companies it said were linked to President Vladimir Putin’s “inner circle”.
The US and EU first imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a number of senior Russian officials and companies after Crimea was annexed.
US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the sanctions had so far caused “a quite substantial deterioration in Russia’s already weak economy”.
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At least 27 people have been injured after four explosions have rocked the city of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine.
The first two blasts happened at a busy central tram stop and near a local cinema, according to officials.
All the devices were apparently planted in rubbish bins.
No suspects have been identified yet and such an attack is unusual for Dnipropetrovsk. The industrial city is the birthplace of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
At least 27 people have been injured after four explosions have rocked the city of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine
“This is yet another challenge for us, for the entire nation,” President Viktor Yanukovych said.
The first explosion injured five and the next, 30 minutes later, injured seven.
Tensions are running high over the alleged mistreatment of Yulia Tymoshenko. She was a leader of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004 but her chief rival, Viktor Yanukovych, won an election in 2010 and forged closer ties with Russia.
Ukraine is also preparing to co-host the Euro 2012 football tournament this summer.