Russia says humanitarian convoy for Ukraine cleared

Refugees from the city of Luhansk sit inside a car at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve, Aug. 16, 2014. REUTERS

MOSCOW -- Russia's foreign minister said Monday he expected the extensive humanitarian aid mission for eastern Ukraine to enter the country in the near future, as Ukrainian officials accused pro-Russian rebels of hitting a bus carrying refugees near the city of Luhansk with a missile.

Speaking at news conference in Berlin, where he met a day earlier with his counterparts from Ukraine, France and Germany, Sergey Lavrov said "all questions" regarding the mission had been removed and that agreement had been reached with Ukraine and the international Red Cross.

It was not clear if Lavrov was referring to security guarantees, which the Red Cross wants to receive from all sides, including eastern Ukraine's separatist fighters, before accompanying the more than 200 trucks into Ukraine.

A Red Cross spokeswoman in the region where the trucks are parked told The Associated Press earlier Monday that they were still waiting for the security guarantees.

The apparent breakthrough on the humanitarian convoy came as fighting in east Ukraine remained intense.

The Reuters news agency quoted a spokesman for the Ukrainian military as saying rebels had "fired Grad missiles at a convoy of refugees from Luhansk."

The unnamed military official said he was "waiting to hear how many died."

A senior official from the separatist's self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic -- the group ostensibly in charge of the rebel forces in the region -- staunchly denied that rebels could have carried out the attack.

"The Ukrainians themselves have bombed the road constantly with airplanes and Grads. It seems they've now killed more civilians like they've been doing for months now," Reuters quoted Andrei Purgin as saying. "We don't have the ability to send Grads into that territory," he said.

Ukraine's national security council said over the weekend that government forces had captured a district police station in Luhansk after bitter clashes in the Velika Vergunka neighborhood.

Weeks of fighting have taken their toll on Luhansk, which city authorities say has reached the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. The siege mounted by government forces has ground delivery of basic provisions to a halt and cut off power and running water.

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