New shelling in Ukraine as Harper arrives in Kyiv for G7

Hundreds of distant explosions heard as prime minister's plane touches down

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko at the Presidential administration building in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 6, 2015. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko at the Presidential administration building in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 6, 2015. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper started his visit to Kyiv today as Ukraine’s restive east continued to be rocked with violent attacks.

While Harper toured a police academy and met the country’s prime minister, 80 explosions were heard in and around Donetsk city’s airport and railway station, some 600 kilometres away near the border with Russia.

That followed another 100 explosions that rocked the city on Friday, and 500 more in the final hour of Thursday evening.

“This is something we’ve not seen before,” said Michael Bociurkiw, the Canadian-born spokesman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“I can’t remember in all these months seeing that type of intensity.”

Harper’s plane touched down at about 12:20 a.m. local time today in Kyiv, as violence between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels flared anew in the region on Wednesday.

Bociurkiw said the series of shellings in Donetsk that followed was particularly troubling because heavy artillery had been moved back to the front lines in violation of the shaky ceasefire agreement that was reached in February.

He added that this week’s renewed violence in the 15-month long conflict was taking an especially heavy toll on civilians, with as many as two million being displaced, allowing Ukraine the dubious distinction of cracking the top 10 list of countries with the most displaced people.

“It’s a horrible impact on civilians,” said Bociurkiw. “They’ve suffered way too much — well over 6,000 have died, 15,000 have been injured. And the big, big number is well over two million have been displaced.”

“A year ago there were no displaced people.”

That has created a “knock-on effect” in other parts of the country as people continue to be on the move, he said, and aid agencies run short of supplies.

“At the moment, we don’t see any return of displaced people back to the conflict zone. They’re just too scared to go back.”

Harper is in Kyiv ahead of the G7 summit in Germany and will be meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later today after a morning meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

“Canada is one of the strongest allies of Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk told Harper as he thanked him and the Canadian people for their support.

During a visit to a local police academy, Harper said Canada would be sending 10 police officers to Ukraine to help reform the country’s security sector in a partnership with the United States.

Harper announced the $5 million project during a visit in which he watched training exercises by police cadets. He also saw a display of some of the non-lethal military aid that Canada has given to Ukraine, including helmets, flak jackets and medical kits.

Both the Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian government are blaming each other for the recent flare up.

While the OSCE couldn’t say for sure who instigated the latest round of violence, Bociurkiw said that OSCE observers had witnessed heavy weaponry coming from areas controlled by Russian-backed rebels, moving westwards.

He also noted that the OSCE’s unmanned aerial vehicle, which has been monitoring the conflict zone, has had its signal repeatedly jammed by high-grade military technology.

Both sides have now moved heavy weapons into close proximity of each other, which is a violation of the February ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine that was brokered by Germany and France.

“They have not abandoned the military option in favour of a diplomatic or political one,” said Bociurkiw.

Harper and his fellow G7 leaders are expected to be seized by the ongoing Ukraine crisis when they arrive in Germany for the start of their summit on Sunday.

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