An uneasy calm prevailed in eastern Ukraine on Saturday after Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists signed a ceasefire as part of a drive to end a war that has triggered a deep crisis in relations between Russia and the West.
The peace roadmap, approved by envoys in Minsk on Friday, includes the exchange of prisoners-of-war. A separatist leader said this process would begin later on Saturday, though the Ukrainian side said details were still being worked out.
The two sides remain far apart on the future status of the rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine and both residents and combatants said they did not expect the ceasefire to last long, but there were no reports of serious violations on Saturday.
“The forces of the anti-terrorist operation support the ceasefire and are closely observing the order of the commander-in-chief,” the spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a daily briefing in Kiev.
In rebel-held Donetsk, the region’s industrial hub with a pre-war population of about one million, separatist commanders said they did not believe the five-month war was over.
“The ceasefire is looking good for now but we know they (the Ukrainian side) are only using it to bring in more forces here and ammunition and then to hit us with renewed strength,” said one rebel commander known by his nickname Montana.
“Come what may, I would not trust (Ukraine’s President Petro) Poroshenko. And it’s not him making the call anyway but the Americans and that is even worse.”
Poroshenko agreed to the ceasefire after Ukraine accused Russia of sending troops and arms onto its territory in support of the separatists, who had suffered big losses over the summer. Moscow denies sending troops or arming the rebels.
“I am sure that Ukraine as a state and I as leader of that state are doing everything possible to achieve peace in our country,” Poroshenko said in an interview for the BBC’s ‘Hard Talk’ programme broadcast late on Friday.
He was speaking after attending a two-day NATO summit in Wales at which U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders urged Russia to pull its forces out of Ukraine. NATO also approved wide-ranging plans to boost its defences in eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis.
Obama said he was sceptical that the separatists in eastern Ukraine would deliver on their ceasefire obligations.