Ukraine leader orders safe corridor
Ukraine's new president has ordered security officials to create a corridor for safe passage for civilians in the country's east, which has been rocked for two months by a pro-Russian insurgency.
In a statement today, Petro Poroshenko ordered security agencies to organise transport and relocation to help civilians leave the affected areas.
Most of those displaced in east Ukraine, estimated at 10,000 by the UN Refugee Agency in May, have not previously received aid or transport from the Kiev government.
Mr Poroshenko said on Saturday that he would grant amnesty to any insurgents who laid down their arms and had not been involved in bloodshed, and encouraged creation of a safe corridor for rebels to go to Russia, but he ruled out negotiations with any "gangsters and killers" among them.
Mr Poroshenko's brief statement gave no details on where the civilians could be relocated, or what accommodation was available.
He also announced the appointments of media executive and business ally Boris Lozhkin as chief of staff and Svyatoslav Tsegolka, a journalist at the TV station owned by Mr Poroshenko, as press secretary.
The new president did not announce any shake-up in defence or the foreign ministry, where changes could be pivotal for Ukraine's offensive in the east.
Mr Poroshenko's move to create a safe passage for civilians comes amid growing concerns that the government's active campaign against rebels has contributed to the rising civilian death toll in the east.
Government officials say at least 200 people, including 59 servicemen, have been killed in the attacks.
The United Nations refugee agency said last month that Ukraine's tensions had resulted in about 10,000 displaced people, both from Russia's annexation of Crimea and from the violence in the east, but before today's announcement no official government assistance had been announced for them.
Mr Poroshenko's statement gave no indication that he was planning to wind down the government's operation against the rebels, who have continued to seize administrative buildings, police stations, border posts and garrisons across the region.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said 30,000 Ukrainian refugees are in Russia's Rostov region, which borders Ukraine.
Mr Lavrov, after meeting with his German and Polish counterparts in St Petersburg, said the announcement on establishing safe passage was "a step in the right direction", but criticised Ukraine for continuing the offensive.
"The key to toning down the situation, in our view, is ending this military operation against protesters. Then, I am convinced, these people who you call separatists will take reciprocal action," he said.
The government in Kiev calls the security sweep an "anti-terrorist operation". Russian officials deny allegations by Kiev and Western countries that it is fomenting or supporting the uprising in the east and it is uncertain how much influence Moscow can exert on the insurgents.