In a sign that the ceasefire agreed for eastern Ukraine could be starting to take meaningful effect columns of pro-Russian separatists could be seen moving heavy weapons back from the frontline on Friday near the city of Donetsk, a rebel-held stronghold.
The process was being closely observed by European monitors.
Ukrainian troops were also on the move on Friday, again under the gaze of OSCE observers. Kyiv says that three government soldiers have been killed in the past 24 hours, so the truce is far from perfect. Nevertheless the UN Security Council is satisfied that progress is being made on the Minsk agreement.
“Combat operations have been significantly reduced across the conflict zone,” said ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, the chief monitor of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“Although some firing has occurred around Donetsk aiport as well as close to the town of Mariupol. We have also seen significant indications that both sides are now taking steps to comply with the Minsk package.”
But the process is still fragile and Ukraine’s UN ambassador says he does not trust Russia’s weapon withdrawal process.
Such is the mistrust that Kyiv fears that the separatists could be regrouping and preparing to attack the port city of Mariupol. That would open a corridor to the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine last year.
An army spokesman said they had tracked a convoy of missile systems and other equipment heading towards the city.