Ukraine rebel leader: We are open to a cease-fire

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Ukraine rebel leader: We are open to a cease-fire
Ukrainian fighters from the Azov Battalion ride on a truck oat a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mariupol on September 2, 2014. Mariupol, a large city of about 500,000 people, is located about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Russian border and about 35 kilometres from Novoazovsk, which has been taken over by pro-Russian rebels. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY (Photo credit should read Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier stands in an armoured personnel carrier (APC) at a checkpoint near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on September 2, 2014. Germany has agreed to accept for the treatment of 20 Ukrainian servicemen wounded in the southeast of the country as pro-Russian rebels allegedly backed with Moscow's manpower and weaponry open a new front in the southeast. Moscow declared NATO a 'threat' to its security on September 2 after the Western military alliance announced plans to reinforce defences in eastern Europe because of Russia's alleged stoking of war in Ukraine. AFP PHOTO/ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier stays near a checkpoint in the Donetsk area, on September 2, 2014. Germany has agreed to accept for the treatment of 20 Ukrainian servicemen wounded in the southeast of the country as pro-Russian rebels allegedly backed with Moscow's manpower and weaponry open a new front in the southeast. AFP PHOTO/ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking during his meeting with participants in the youth educational forum at the Seliger youth camp near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in Tver region, Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, including discussing statehood.(AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)
Demonstrators hold Ukrainian flags at a rally in support of Ukraine and against Russian involvement in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. President Barack Obama suggested Thursday that the U.S. might impose new economic sanctions on Russia, blaming it squarely for the warfare in eastern Ukraine. But he ruled out any military options and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting on development of the Russian Far East issues in Yakutsk, Russia, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)
Ukrainian soldiers park their hardware on roadside as they are waiting for the start of the march in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Heavy shelling hit a town of Novoazovsk in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday, the third day of an assault that has forced government troops to spread their ranks thinner along the Russian border. Ukraine claimed the shelling was coming both from pro-Russian separatists and from Russia itself. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A Pro-Russian fighter gestures in Troitsko-Khartsyzk, 30 Km east of Donetsk, on August 28, 2014. Mortar bombardments have killed 11 civilians and wounded 22 more in east Ukraine's main rebel bastion of Donetsk over the past 24 hours, local authorities said on August 28. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian military vehicles pass down Kiev's main street during a military parade to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's Independence, in the capital Kiev,Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.Ukraine's president has vowed to boost military spending by 40 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) in the next three years as government forces seek to overpower pro-Russian separatists in the east. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian missiles pass down Kiev's main street during a military parade to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's Independence, in the capital Kiev, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Ukraine's president has vowed to boost military spending by 40 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) in the next three years as government forces seek to overpower pro-Russian separatists in the east.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian cadets march down Kiev's main street during a military parade on the occasion of the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's Independence, in the capital Kiev,Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Ukraine's president has vowed to boost military spending by 40 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) in the next three years as government forces seek to overpower pro-Russian separatists in the east.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian soldiers march down Kiev's main street during military parade on the occasion of the 23 anniversary of Ukraine's Independence, in the capital Kiev,Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Ukraine's president has vowed to boost military spending by 40 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) in the next three years as government forces seek to overpower pro-Russian separatists in the east.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Captured Russian paratroopers are seen in this image taken from video in Kiev on Wednesday Aug. 27. 2014. Ten Russian paratroopers were captured this week in Ukraine, adding to a growing body of evidence that Russia, despite its denials, is sending regular troops and weapons to support the separatists in their increasingly deadly fight against Ukrainian forces. (AP Photo/Channel 5) UKRAINE OUT TV OUT
Captured Russian paratroopers are seen in this image taken from video in Kiev on Wednesday Aug. 27. 2014. Ten Russian paratroopers were captured this week in Ukraine, adding to a growing body of evidence that Russia, despite its denials, is sending regular troops and weapons to support the separatists in their increasingly deadly fight against Ukrainian forces. (AP Photo/Channel 5) UKRAINE OUT TV OUT
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with participants in the youth educational forum at the Seliger youth camp near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in Tver region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, arrives at a meeting with participants in the youth educational forum at the Seliger youth camp near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in Tver region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)
Ukrainian soldiers park their hardware on roadside as they are waiting for the start of the march in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Heavy shelling hit a town of Novoazovsk in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday, the third day of an assault that has forced government troops to spread their ranks thinner along the Russian border. Ukraine claimed the shelling was coming both from pro-Russian separatists and from Russia itself. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an APC near the village of Sakhanka, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Separatist rebels shelled a town of Novoazovsk in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday, raising fears they are launching a counter-offensive on government-held parts of the region, one day after the leaders of Ukraine and Russia met to discuss the escalating crisis. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A military attache takes pictures while examining Russian-made artillery displayed in Kiev on August 29, 2014. Russian weapons and artillery, seized by Ukrainian forces from pro-Russian separatists following clashes in the east of the country, were displayed for inspection by foreign military attaches accredited in Ukraine. Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the government is seeking to join NATO and is submitting a relevant bill to parliament to end its official 'non-bloc' policy. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Military attaches examine Russian-made military vehicles and weapons displayed in Kiev on August 29, 2014. Russian weapons and artillery, seized by Ukrainian forces from pro-Russian separatists following clashes in the east of the country, were displayed for inspection by foreign military attaches accredited in Ukraine. Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the government is seeking to join NATO and is submitting a relevant bill to parliament to end its official 'non-bloc' policy. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
A military attache examines military vehicles displayed in Kiev on August 29, 2014. Russian weapons and artillery, seized by Ukrainian forces from pro-Russian separatists following clashes in the east of the country, were displayed for inspection by foreign military attaches accredited in Ukraine. Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the government is seeking to join NATO and is submitting a relevant bill to parliament to end its official 'non-bloc' policy. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents pass by a balcony damaged during morning shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Several shells fell this morning in a northern Donetsk neighborhood, near the airport. No human casualties were registered. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A communal worker removes a tree that was cut down by a shell after morning shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Several shells fell this morning in a northern Donetsk neighborhood, near the airport. No human casualties were registered.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A Ukrainian government soldier drinks water atop of his military vehicle in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. A top commander of the pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine said Saturday that Ukrainian forces have seized a key town, leaving the rebel region's largest city of Donetsk surrounded. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A serviceman postures on the APC of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A serviceman prays in a tented chapel of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A serviceman sits on a tank gun barrel while a helicopter flies on the position of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A local woman stands on her damaged balcony after morning shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Several shells fell this morning in a northern Donetsk neighborhood, near the airport. No human casualties were registered. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A serviceman walks near an APC while a helicopter flies on the position of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Servicemen are in the WWII Soviet tank IS-3 captured from pro-Russia militants at the position of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Servicemen are in the WWII Soviet tank IS-3 captured from pro-Russia militants at the position of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Servicemen are in the WWII Soviet tank IS-3 captured from pro-Russia militants at the position of the Ukrainian troops in Donetsk region on August 9, 2014. Fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has left 13 troops dead in the last 24 hours, Ukraine's military said Saturday. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin answers questions during an interview at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014. Klimkin says pro-Russian separatists are continuing to try to manipulate the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that the United States and others have accused the rebels of shooting down.(AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin answers questions during an interview at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014. Klimkin says pro-Russian separatists are continuing to try to manipulate the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that the United States and others have accused the rebels of shooting down.(AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during his briefing in Moscow, Russia, Monday, July 28, 2014. Lavrov said he is expecting OSCE observers to arrive at the Russian-Ukrainian border "in the coming days." He said they would see that accusations rebels are traveling freely into Ukraine from Russia are false. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during his briefing in Moscow, Russia, Monday, July 28, 2014. Lavrov said he is expecting OSCE observers to arrive at the Russian-Ukrainian border "in the coming days." He said they would see that accusations rebels are traveling freely into Ukraine from Russia are false. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
In this photo taken early Saturday, July 26, 2014, Russian and Ukraine paramedics carry an injured Ukrainian serviceman on board a Ukrainian military plane to be transported to Ukraine at Rostov-on-Don's airport, in Russia. Several Ukrainian servicemen had to cross the border into Russia after they were injured in clashes with pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Sergei Pivovarov)
Dutch, right, and Australian policemen talk in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch policemen walk in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch policemen walk to their cars in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Ukrainian volunteers of Donbas Battalion examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Lisichansk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Saturday, July 26, 2014. Volunteers from the Donbas Battalion, a volunteer militia for a united Ukraine, told The Associated Press their units, along with the Ukrainian army, regained control of Lisichansk on Friday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks at a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday July 24, 2014. Rutte says he is sending 40 unarmed military police to eastern Ukraine as part of a ramped-up effort to find the last victims of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 still at the crash site. Rutte told The Associated Press he is sending the police not as security for the site in rebel-held territory but as “extra hands and eyes to look for remaining remains and personal belongings” of victims. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)
Graffiti under a railway bridge commemorates the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says he is sending 40 unarmed military police to eastern Ukraine as part of a ramped-up effort to find the last victims of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 still at the crash site. Rutte told The Associated Press he is sending the police not as security for the site in rebel-held territory but as “extra hands and eyes to look for remaining remains and personal belongings” of victims. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)
People look at pictures of the victims of the Malaysian Airlines crash in a central square in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Ukrainians tape pictures of victims of the MH17 air crash on a wall before a memorial concert in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Two military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster departed for the Netherlands on July 24, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash scene which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Malaysian forensic experts attend a memorial concert for the victims of the MH17 air crash victims in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Two military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster departed for the Netherlands on July 24, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash scene which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Malaysian forensic experts attend a memorial concert for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 air crash, in a central square in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Pro-Russian rebels, right, followed by members of the OSCE mission, walk by plane wreckage as they arrive for a media briefing at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. A team of Malaysian investigators visited the site along with members of the OSCE mission for the first time since last week's crash. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A pro-Russian fighter stands guard next to bodies near a destroyed Ukrainian tank in the northern outskirts of the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The soldiers were reportedly killed in fighting between rebels and government forces Monday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Pro-Russian rebels ride on a tank flying Russia's flag, on a road east of Donetsk, Monday, July 21, 2014. Another 21 bodies have been found in the sprawling fields of east Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed last week, killing all 298 people aboard. International indignation over the incident has grown as investigators still only have limited access to the crash site and it remains unclear when and where the victims' bodies will be transported. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin answers questions during an interview at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014. Klimkin says pro-Russian separatists are continuing to try to manipulate the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that the United States and others have accused the rebels of shooting down.(AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Pro-Russian militants block the way behind Dutch and Australian forensic teams on their way to the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk. Dutch and Australian forensic investigators turned back on their way to the MH17 crash site on July 28, after 'explosions' in the area, a government spokeswoman in The Hague said. The Ukrainian military earlier said its forces were battling pro-Russian rebels for control of several eastern Ukrainian towns around the crash site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane. AFP PHOTO/ BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian volunteers of Donbas Battalion examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Lisichansk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Saturday, July 26, 2014. Volunteers from the Donbas Battalion, a volunteer militia for a united Ukraine, told The Associated Press their units, along with the Ukrainian army, regained control of Lisichansk on Friday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Igor Strelkov, the top military commander of the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic', delivers a press conference on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Ukraine's army on July 28 seized control of part of the vast site where Malaysian airliner MH17 crashed, insurgents said, as the UN announced the downing of the plane could constitute a war crime. After explosions and fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to access the east Ukraine crash site, Kiev confirmed that its forces were engaged in fierce clashes with rebels nearby. AFP PHOTO/ BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian soldiers stay near a checkpoint in the Donetsk area, on September 2, 2014. Germany has agreed to accept for the treatment of 20 Ukrainian servicemen wounded in the southeast of the country as pro-Russian rebels allegedly backed with Moscow's manpower and weaponry open a new front in the southeast. AFP PHOTO/ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
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By YURAS KARMANAU

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - Ukraine's rebels are surrounded and ready to agree to a cease-fire to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe," the insurgents' new leader said Saturday as conditions deteriorated in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, artillery thundering through deserted streets.

There was no immediate government response to the cease-fire statement. Ukrainian troops have made steady advances against the rebels in recent weeks.

"We are prepared to stop firing to bar the spread of the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass (eastern Ukraine)," Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so-called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists, said in a statement on a rebel website.

His motive for offering a cease-fire was not clear but his comments could be aimed at increasing the pressure on Ukraine to allow in a Russian aid mission.

Ukranian Rebel Leader Open To Cease Fire

Russia, which the Ukrainian government in Kiev and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels, has called repeatedly for a humanitarian mission into eastern Ukraine. But Kiev and the West suggest that could be just a pretext to send Russian forces into the region - and say about 20,000 of them have gathered just across the border.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a statement late Saturday saying that Ukraine is prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine. But he said the aid must come in without military accompaniment, it must pass through border checkpoints under Ukrainian control and the mission must be international in character.

Poroshenko said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed German participation in such a mission.

In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and would violate international law.

Artillery reverberated Saturday across Donetsk, home to nearly 1 million people before 300,000 fled the conflict.

"The situation is getting worse with every hour," Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky told The Associated Press.

Ukraine Readies for Possible Russian Invasion

At least one person was killed and 18 wounded in shelling that hit about 30 apartment blocks Saturday in Donetsk, he said, adding that about 2,000 residential buildings had no electricity.

City streets were nearly empty of cars and pedestrians and most stores were closed. Explosions were also heard near Donetsk's airport.

Ukrainian officials have consistently denied that their forces are shelling civilians, but the rebels dismiss that and claim the government is aiming to blame the insurgents for the increasing death and destruction. Ukraine says the rebels have deliberately put rocket launchers in populated areas.

Some say both sides are to blame.

"We're afraid of the Ukrainian army, which is firing on the city, and of the rebels of the Donetsk People's Republic, who are robbing and killing civilians," said Dmitry Andronov, a 47-year-old resident.

Zakharchenko's statement that the city was surrounded came hours after the rebels' top commander said Ukrainian forces had seized a key town, Krasnyi Luch, effectively cutting Donetsk and nearby territory off from the rest of the rebel-held east.

"The Donetsk-Horlivka group of the fighters of Novorossiya is completely surrounded," Igor Girkin said on a rebel social media page.

Novorossiya, or "New Russia," is a term widely used by the rebels for the eastern area that seeks independence from the government in Kiev. Horlivka, where rebels and Ukrainian forces are also fighting, is 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Donetsk.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation, Andriy Lysenko, told reporters Saturday that he could not confirm that Krasnyi Luch was under government control.

Concerns were also rising about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the rebel's second-largest city of Luhansk, where fighting has been heavier and more prolonged. A map released by the Ukrainian military showed Ukrainian forces near the outskirts of Luhansk on three sides, with an opening to other rebel-held territory only to the south.

Russian news agencies quoted Luhansk authorities as saying Saturday that the city has been without water and electricity for a week and most of its stores were closed.

Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron also spoke by telephone on Saturday about Ukraine.

"Both expressed grave concern about reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian armed forces are exercising for a 'humanitarian intervention'," said a statement from Cameron's office. Both "are absolutely clear that such a so-called humanitarian mission would be unjustified and illegal."

The deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Valeriy Chalyi, said Saturday that Russian forces wanted to enter Ukraine under the guise of a humanitarian mission but Ukraine had blocked the move.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the report, saying "there was no attempt by Russian soldiers at penetration," according to Russian news agencies. But he reiterated Russia's call for humanitarian action, saying "this catastrophe now is the No. 1 theme for discussion."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to alleviate the crisis in eastern Ukraine but warned that any Red Cross aid convoy "will be taken in strict adherence to our fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in a telephone interview about his communications with the Red Cross about efforts to distribute humanitarian aid, the White House said.

A White House statement said Biden and Poroshenko agreed that if "Russia were serious about improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine," it had to immediately stop shelling Ukrainian troops, release Ukrainian hostages being held inside Russia and cease providing weapons to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, city workers and volunteers removed the last of the barricades that had blocked the city's main street since anti-government protests began in November.

Protesters had erected the barricades to protect a sprawling tent camp on the city's main square. Although the camp's size dwindled sharply after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February and a new government came to power, a determined core of demonstrators remained.

Yanukovych's ouster precipitated the crisis in Ukraine's east, which was his support base. Fighting began in April, after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Ukraine's Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.

___

Peter Leonard in Kiev, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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