Kiev accuses Russia of sending more tanks to east Ukraine

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Ukraine Peace Deal + Violence Fighting - updated 02/19/2015
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Kiev accuses Russia of sending more tanks to east Ukraine
A Pro-Russian separatist fighter mans a checkpoint near the airport of Donetsk on Febuary 7, 2015. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced optimism that a plan being worked on by Moscow, Berlin and Paris could bring an end to the Ukraine conflict. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 24: Pro-Russian separatist stands near the road while pro-Russian separatists withdraw military vehicles from the front line at Donetsk Airport on February 24, 2015 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Since 9 A.M. on Tuesday DNR has already taken away 96 units of barreled artillery, jet and self-propelled artillery. (Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images).
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 24: Pro-Russian separatists withdraw military vehicles from the front line at Donetsk Airport on February 24, 2015 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Since 9 A.M. on Tuesday DNR has already taken away 96 units of barreled artillery, jet and self-propelled artillery. (Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images).
A pro-Russian separatist fighter stands guard at Donetsk's Sergey Prokofiev international airport, as shelling continues between Ukrainian army forces and pro-Russian separatist fighters on February 7, 2015. Five civilians and five soldiers were killed in fighting in east Ukraine, government and rebel officials said on February 7, with Kiev accusing pro-Russian separatists of massing forces for fresh offensives. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
A Pro-Russian separatist fighter stands guard at a checkpoint near the airport of Donetsk on Febuary 7, 2015. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday voiced optimism that a plan being worked on by Moscow, Berlin and Paris could bring an end to the Ukraine conflict.AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian servicemen, members of trilateral groups of observers, walk along a street in Soledar, Donetsk region, on February 17, 2015. The European Union on February 17, 2015 called for the immediate pull-back of heavy weapons from the frontline in eastern Ukraine and voiced concern about the surge in fighting in a key flashpoint town of Debaltseve. AFP PHOTO / ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian serviceman stands on top of a KRAZ armoured vehicle close to a car of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Soledar, Donetsk region, on February 17, 2015. The European Union on February 17, 2015 called for the immediate pull-back of heavy weapons from the frontline in eastern Ukraine and voiced concern about the surge in fighting in a key flashpoint town of Debaltseve. AFP PHOTO / ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 17: Destroyed Ukrainian military armoured vehicles are seen on the nothern outskirts of Donestk on February 17, 2015 in Donetsk, Ukraine. A ceasefire agreed to by Ukraine and pro-Russian rebel forces has failed to prevent fighting in the nearby town of Debaltseve, where thousands of Ukrainian troops remain and whom rebels claim to have surrounded. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
MYRONIVSKYI, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 17: A gas pipe burns after being struck by shelling on February 17, 2015 in Myronivskyi, Ukraine. A ceasefire agreed to by Ukraine and pro-Russian rebel forces has failed to prevent fighting in the nearby town of Debaltseve, where thousands of Ukrainian troops remain and whom rebels claim to have surrounded. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: An Ukrainian soldier stands next to a destroyed military vehicle of Ukrainian army, near Debaltseve district of Donetsk, Ukraine on February 16, 2015. At least 112 attacks are carried out by pro-Russian separatists on the Ukrainian armys position and five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours. (Photo by Viktor Koshkin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: Ukrainian soldiers are seen near Debaltseve district of Donetsk, Ukraine on February 16, 2015. At least 112 attacks are carried out by pro-Russian separatists on the Ukrainian armys position and five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours. (Photo by Viktor Koshkin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: Ukrainian soldiers sit on a military vehicle of Ukrainian army near Debaltseve district of Donetsk, Ukraine on February 16, 2015. At least 112 attacks are carried out by pro-Russian separatists on the Ukrainian armys position and five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours. (Photo by Viktor Koshkin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSPYNE, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: Pro-Russian rebels attend the funerals of four rebel fighters who died on the frontline at the cemetery of Mospyne on February 16, 2015 in Mospyne, Ukraine. The rebels died on the frontline in Lohvynove near Debaltseve one day before the ceasefire . (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: An Ukrainian soldier stands next to a destroyed military vehicle of Ukrainian army, near Debaltseve district of Donetsk, Ukraine on February 16, 2015. At least 112 attacks are carried out by pro-Russian separatists on the Ukrainian armys position and five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours. (Photo by Viktor Koshkin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: Ukrainian military vehicles of Ukrainian army are seen near Debaltseve district of Donetsk, Ukraine on February 16, 2015. At least 112 attacks are carried out by pro-Russian separatists on the Ukrainian armys position and five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours. (Photo by Viktor Koshkin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSPYNE, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 16: Graves in the cemetery of Mospyne during the funeral of four rebel fighters killed on the frontline on February 16, 2015 in Mospyne, Ukraine. The rebels died on the frontline in Lohvynove near Debaltseve one day before the ceasefire . (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
Ukrainian reserve officers called up during the fourth wave of partial mobilization take part in military exercises in the Army Training Center near the village of Desna, Chernigiv region, on February 13, 2015. Fighting raged in Ukraine today as the clock ticked down to a ceasefire that will be a first test of Kiev and pro-Russian separatists' committment to a freshly-inked peace plan. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian reserve officers, called up during the fourth wave of partial mobilization, take part in military exercises in the Army Training Center near the village of Desna, Chernigiv region on February 13, 2015. At least 18 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine in new artillery shelling just a day after a peace deal was signed to end the 10-month conflict. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from Ukraine peace talks by announcing a new cease-fire deal, but questions remained whether Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels have agreed on its terms.
Ukrainian reserve officers called up during the fourth wave of partial mobilization take part in military exercises in the Army Training Center near the village of Desna, Chernigiv region, on February 13, 2015. Fighting raged in Ukraine today as the clock ticked down to a ceasefire that will be a first test of Kiev and pro-Russian separatists' committment to a freshly-inked peace plan. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian reserve officers called up during the fourth wave of partial mobilization take part in military exercises in the Army Training Center near the village of Desna, Chernigiv region, on February 13, 2015. Fighting raged in Ukraine today as the clock ticked down to a ceasefire that will be a first test of Kiev and pro-Russian separatists' committment to a freshly-inked peace plan. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian reserve officers, called up during the fourth wave of partial mobilization, take part in military exercises in the Army Training Center near the village of Desna, Chernigiv region on February 13, 2015. At least 18 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine in new artillery shelling just a day after a peace deal was signed to end the 10-month conflict. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
MISNK, BELARUS - FEBRUARY 11: (L to R) Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko during peace talks over Eastern Ukraine on February 11, 2015 in Minsk, Belarus. The European leaders are meeting to discuss a cease-fire in the Ukraine. (Photo by Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images).
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday emerged from marathon Ukraine peace talks by announcing a new cease-fire deal, but questions remained whether Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels have agreed on its terms. (Feb. 12)
MISNK, BELARUS - FEBRUARY 11: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (R)during peace talks over Eastern Ukraine on February 11, 2015 in Minsk, Belarus. The European leaders are meeting to discuss a cease-fire in the Ukraine. (Photo by Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images).
Automatic gunfire from a Ukrainian military truck. Government forces have launched a counter offensive near the southeastern port city of Mariupol. They claim to have gained territory from Russian-backed rebels, who want greater independence with what they're calling "people's republics" in the east of the country.
KRAMATORSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 10: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visits Ukraine's military headquarters after shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, a town more than 30 miles away from the front lines, on February 10, 2015. At least 7 killed including 2 soldier and 26 wounded in a rocket attack on Ukraine's military headquarters, local authorities said. (Photo by Ukrainian Presidency Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Pro-Russian separatist fighter mans a checkpoint near the airport of Donetsk on Febuary 7, 2015. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced optimism that a plan being worked on by Moscow, Berlin and Paris could bring an end to the Ukraine conflict. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. and European leaders threatened new sanctions against Moscow after a missile attack blamed on pro-Russian separatists killed 30 civilians in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Niki Blasina reports.
People lay flowers and set candles on January 24, 2015, during a rally to mourn at a bus stop in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, where 13 people were killed in a trolleybus shelling on January 22. At least 27 people died on January 24, in a rocket attack on Ukraine's strategic government-held port of Mariupol after Russian-backed rebels rejected peace talks, the mayor's office said. AFP PHOTO/ALEXANDER GAYUK (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER GAYUK/AFP/Getty Images)
People light candles on Independence Square in Kiev on 24, 2015 to mourn people who died as a result of shelling in southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. At least 27 people died in a rocket attack on Ukraine's strategic government-held port of Mariupol after Russian-backed rebels rejected peace talks, the mayor's office said. AFP PHOTO/ YURY KIRNICHNY (Photo credit should read YURY KIRNICHNY/AFP/Getty Images)
People light candles on Independence Square in Kiev on 24, 2015, in mourning for people who died as a result of shelling in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. At least 27 people died in a rocket attack on Ukraine's strategic government-held port of Mariupol after Russian-backed rebels rejected peace talks, the mayor's office said. AFP PHOTO/ YURY KIRNICHNY (Photo credit should read YURY KIRNICHNY/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold placards reading 'I am Mariupol' as they stand beside candles on Independence Square in Kiev on 24, 2015, lit in mourning for people who died as a result of shelling in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. At least 27 people died in a rocket attack on Ukraine's strategic government-held port of Mariupol after Russian-backed rebels rejected peace talks, the mayor's office said. AFP PHOTO/ YURY KIRNICHNY (Photo credit should read YURY KIRNICHNY/AFP/Getty Images)
People lay tributes for victims of a shelling at a bus stop in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, during a rally on January 24, 2015. Eight civilians died in a trolleybus shelling in Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel stronghold of Donetsk, separatist and Kiev officials said on January 23, revising down an earlier toll. The trolleybus shelling was among the bloodiest incidents involving civilians in recent months in a conflict that has devastated the ex-Soviet republic's industrial heartland and brought Ukraine's economy to its knees. AFP PHOTO/ALEXANDER GAYUK (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER GAYUK/AFP/Getty Images)
People set candles on Independence Square in Kiev on January 24, 2015 in memory of people who died during shelling in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. At least 27 people died on January 24 in a rocket attack on Ukraine's strategic government-held port of Mariupol after Russian-backed rebels rejected peace talks, the mayor's office said. AFP PHOTO / ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE - JANUARY 24: At least 10 people have been killed and 46 others wounded by rockets Saturday in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. Buildings are on fire and damaged after this incident. (Photo by Maxim Scherbina/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) - Kiev accused Russia on Friday of sending more tanks and troops into easternUkraine and said they were heading towards the rebel-held town of Novoazovsk on the southern coast, expanding their presence on what could be the next key battlefront.

Russia did not immediately respond to the accusation which, if confirmed, would be almost certain to finally kill off a tattered European-brokered truce that came into force on Sunday. Moscow has always denied such charges in the past.

Novoazovsk lies on the Sea of Azov, 40 km (25 miles) east of the port city of Mariupol. It was captured by rebels last year and could be a launching-pad for more pressure on Mariupol, a gateway to the south and possibly to the Crimea peninsula annexed by Russia a year ago.

"In recent days, despite the Minsk (ceasefire) agreement, military equipment and ammunition have been sighted crossing from Russia into Ukraine," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.

He said more than 20 Russian tanks, 10 missile systems and busloads of troops had crossed the border into Ukraine.

Western nations have clung to the hope that they can revive the peace deal brokered by France and Germany in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Feb. 12 even though the rebels ignored it to seize the important railway hub of Debaltseve.

The German, Russian, Ukrainian and French foreign ministers are expected to meet next week to pursue peace moves, Russian media reported. But hopes were slim even before the latest sighting of Russian reinforcements, also reported by the United States this week.

Renewed fighting between the pro-Russian separatists and government forces in east Ukraine also soured the mood as crowds gathered in Kiev for the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled a Moscow-leaning president but culminated in war.

"The number of attacks show the terrorists do not want to completely silence their guns," Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoly Stelmach said, listing 49 attacks in the past 24 hours.

DEVASTATION IN DEBALTSEVE

The fiercest fighting since a truce came into effect on Sunday was in and around Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub, until demoralized and weary Ukrainian forces withdrew on Wednesday.

A Reuters correspondent who reached Debaltseve for the first time since this week's fighting said much of the town was in ruins, with little left of rows of apartment blocks.

The black, blue and red flag of the rebels' self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic flew over the town hall.

Many of the walls of the buildings still standing were pock-marked by bullets, or had huge holes blown in them, and the burnt-out hulks of tanks and military trucks lay abandoned on the road.

Heavily armed rebels and tanks patrolled the streets on the outskirts, where bridges had been blown up and the railway appeared to have suffered a lot of damage. Some rebels were on the lookout for Ukrainian soldiers with binoculars.

The rebels said government forces had also shelled their positions, including in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, the main city in the two regions they control.

In Kiev, large crowds headed for Independence Square, called locally the Maidan, in the heart of the capital to mark the first anniversary of the shootings of about 100 protesters and the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich, who fled to Russia soon after the killings.

Some people wore combat fatigues showing allegiance to pro-government militias that have fought pro-Russian separatists who rose up in the east last April. The mood was somber.

More than 5,600 people have been killed in fighting since mid-April last year, soon after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine following Yanukovich's overthrow.

The failure to crush the rebellion, which Kiev and the West say is backed by Russian troops and weaponry, is a bitter blow to the pro-Western leadership in Kiev.

It has not only sapped morale but also deprived central and western Ukraine of access to an industrial region that provided about 16 percent of gross domestic product, making the country's economic crisis even worse.

(Additional reporting by Natalya Zinets; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Giles Elgood)


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