Ukrainian forces press attacks on rebel-held areas

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Government troops pressed attacks Tuesday in the two largest cities held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, while Kiev also pursued diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict that has killed more than 2,000 and displaced another 300,000.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prepared to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend before heading to a meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The next two weeks “will be crucial for finding the way to move from war to peace,” said Valery Chaly, the deputy head of Poroshenko’s administration.

He said in a televised briefing that Kiev sees “clear diplomatic roadmap” ahead and expressed hope that a new approach could be found to end the war.

Poroshenko’s efforts to quell the insurgency have been focused on encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city and a regional capital. Fighting began in mid-April after Russia annexed Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, while Kiev’s forces have recaptured significant amounts of territory from the separatists.

Moscow has denied allegations by Kiev and the West that it has fomented the rebellion in the Russian-speaking parts of eastern Ukraine. It says the Ukrainian government has discriminated against residents of the region who seek closer ties to Russia.

In fighting Tuesday, one soldier was killed and four were wounded when a pro-Kiev battalion of volunteers came under mortar fire before entering the town of Ilovaysk, 1 miles east of Donetsk, Ukrainian officials said.

Among the wounded in Ilovaysk was the commander of the Donbass battalion, Semyon Semenchenko, who said his forces had destroyed three rebel checkpoints and four firing positions and that fighting continued. Semenchenko, who appears in public in his trademark balaclava, has cult hero status in Ukraine for his battlefield exploits.

Ukrainian troops also captured a neighborhood in the regional capital of Luhansk, battling rebels on the city’s streets, National Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.

The fighting has killed at least 2,086 people as of Aug. 10, and it has forced nearly 344,000 to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. Living conditions in rebel-held cities had deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks.

With the rebels losing more and more ground, the Kremlin announced a summit will be held in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 26 that would also include top officials from Ukraine, the European Commission and the Customs Union bloc, which is made up of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

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