24 December 2014
Last updated at 15:01
Pro-Russian separatists want the Ukrainian government to end an economic blockade in the east
Talks have begun in Belarus aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine which has left 4,700 people dead.
The meeting in Minsk – involving pro-Moscow rebels, Ukraine, international monitors and Russia – is expected to focus on troop withdrawals and aid.
A ceasefire and framework peace deal were agreed in Minsk in September but neither has been properly observed.
On the eve of the talks, Ukraine’s parliament voted to work towards membership of Nato.
Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said on Wednesday the move would only complicate matters and he accused Nato members of “trying to turn Ukraine into a front line of confrontation with Russia”, state media reported.
However, Nato is unlikely to admit Ukraine as long as the conflict on its territory is unresolved, according to the terms of the alliance’s enlargement policy.
Envoys from Ukraine, the pro-Russian separatists, Russia and the OSCE security body arrived in Minsk late on Wednesday afternoon. Rebel negotiator Denis Pushilin told Russian media earlier a second round of talks would take place on Friday.
The talks would focus on withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, exchange of prisoners and ending Ukraine’s economic blockade of rebel-held areas, he added.
Europe’s security body the OSCE says humanitarian aid will be a key part of Wednesday’s talks
However, the government in Kiev has so far refused to discuss resuming benefit payments to Ukrainians in rebel-held areas. The payments were stopped after the rebels staged their own elections on 2 November.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe says humanitarian aid will be high on the agenda.
Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Ukrainian volunteer battalions of preventing food and medicine from reaching people in need in the east, and threatening to the humanitarian crisis there worse.
It cited several cases involving the Dnipro-1 and Aidar battalions. Roads were said to have been blocked and aid stopped from entering rebel-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Since the conflict began in eastern Ukraine in April, 4,707 people have lost their lives, according to the UN. Of that number 1,357 have died since the 5 September ceasefire was agreed.
The latest attempt at a ceasefire began on 9 December but sporadic violence has continued in both eastern regions.
Separatists took over the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March. Ukrainian forces and volunteers then mounted a military operation to recover the areas.
Ukraine: the human cost
- 5,200,000 affected by conflict
- 4,707 people killed including 36 children
- 10,322 wounded including 102 children
- 542,080 people displaced inside Ukraine
- 597,956 refugees and asylum seekers outside Ukraine