An eight-hour cease-fire declared in Eastern Ukraine allowed hundreds of civilians to escape heavy fighting between the government and Moscow-backed separatists, NPR’s Teri Schultz reports.
About 50 buses entered the city of Debaltseve in the Donetsk region, Teri reports, then took those who wanted to leave to refugee centers farther from the fighting. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that the fresh round of intense fighting has brought the number of internally displaced Ukrainians to nearly 1 million — in the middle of winter. High temperatures in the region are expected to hover just above freezing for the next week, according to weather.com.
The UN reports that in addition to those internally displaced, more than a half-million have fled the country entirely.
“In addition, some 600,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum or other forms of legal stay in neighbouring countries, particularly the Russian Federation, but also Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Romania, since February 2014.”
The Associated Press reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande early Saturday, and that there would be a telephone call between the three leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday.
The European leaders, supported by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have been pursuing a longer-term cease-fire in the conflict, which reintensified in in the past two weeks after a month of relative calm.
Vice President Joe Biden questioned Putin’s resolve, the AP reported, saying he “continues to call for new peace plans as his troops roll through the Ukrainian countryside and he absolutely ignores every agreement that his country has signed in the past and that he has signed.”