KIEV, Ukraine – Army troops have penetrated deep inside a rebel-controlled city in eastern Ukraine in what could prove a breakthrough development in the four-month-long conflict, the Ukrainian government said Sunday.
However, the military acknowledged that another one of its fighter planes was shot down by the separatists, who have been bullish about their ability to continue the battle and have bragged about receiving support from Russia. An Associated Press reporter spotted a column of several dozen heavy vehicles, including tanks and at least one rocket launcher, rolling through rebel-held territory on Sunday.
Talks in Berlin between the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict ended without any substantial result.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the five-hour meeting that “frank words” had been exchanged and he believed there had been progress “on some issues,” without elaborating. Before the talks he had expressed hope that the four countries’ top diplomats might find a way to revive the political process aimed at brokering a lasting cease-fire and credible controls at Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
Ukraine’s national security council said government forces captured a district police station in Luhansk on Saturday after bitter clashes. Weeks of fighting have taken their toll on Luhansk, which city authorities say has reached the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. The siege mounted by government forces has ground delivery of basic provisions to a halt and cut off power and running water.
Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky said Sunday that the separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane over the Luhansk region after it launched an attack on rebels. The pilot ejected and was taken to a secure place, he said.
The column of armored vehicles was spotted southeast of Luhansk outside a town very close to the Russian border and was heading west, deeper into rebel-held territory. It was unclear whether the column had come from Russia. Among the armored vehicles was a Strela-10, a short-range surface-to-air missile system capable of hitting targets up to 11,500 feet.