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Ukraine civilian toll nears 7,000

Ukraine's president says almost 7,000 civilians have died and a thousand more remain unaccounted for as a result of the unrest that has gripped his country over the past year.

Petro Poroshenko said 1,657 Ukrainian troops had died in fighting with Russian-backed separatists seeking the breakaway of two eastern regions.

Mr Poroshenko's figures mark a major upward revision of earlier estimates.

An uneasy ceasefire has been in place since mid-February, but has been marred by regular violations.

The most recent United Nations tally estimated around 6,100 people had been killed.

Mr Poroshenko gave the new figures as he addressed an assembly packed with soldiers before the opening of parliament in Kiev.

Moscow has always denied supplying separatist rebels with equipment or manpower, but it has been open in its diplomatic support for the separatists.

Mr Poroshenko said Russian involvement in the war had forced Ukraine to seek to align closer with the West.

"Given that the Russian threat is long-term and considering that the aggressive stance and policy of the Russian Federation poses a major threat to national security, the strategy aims to reach full compatibility in the security and defence sectors of Ukraine and Nato," Mr Poroshenko said.

The uneasy ceasefire that has been in place in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk has been violated by both sides deploying heavy weapons near the front line, according to international monitors.

Separatists have been showing off large amounts of hardware in rehearsal for a military parade later this week in their stronghold of Donetsk. The city is a few miles from the front line, so deployment of any firepower with a calibre above 100mm would nominally be in violation of the ceasefire.

Mr Poroshenko said the peace deal remained the only option for restoring stability to east Ukraine.

"This has enabled some degree of de-escalation in the conflict," he said. "Every day in which nobody dies is like a feast day for me."

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said two soldiers had been killed and 26 injured over the previous 24 hours.

In a calculated snub to Russia, Ukraine this year brought its Second World War victory celebrations forward by one day to May 8, the date marked in western Europe.

Moscow is to hold a grand military parade tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.

Ukraine has adopted the red poppy as a commemorative symbol at pointed variance with Russia, where wearing the black and orange St George's ribbon has been commonplace.

A climber today scaled the 102-metre Motherland Monument in Kiev to attach a braid of giant artificial poppies around the head of the statue.


From Belfast Telegraph