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Ukraine truce pullback of weapons finally begins

By Ed Adamczyk
Ukraine truce pullback of weapons finally begins
A convoy of Ukrainian army trucks (CC/ wikimedia.org/ Serginkod)

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The Ukrainian army said Thursday it was withdrawing heavy weapons from the front lines of its conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

The move to pull back 100-millimeter artillery, monitored by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, was specified in a cease-fire agreement signed Feb. 12, with a Feb. 15 date specified for withdrawal. Pro-Russian rebels said they, too, had begun moving heavy weaponry back from a de facto line of demarcation through eastern Ukraine, a statement not verified by OSCE monitors.

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Since the strategic town of Debaltseve fell to rebels on Feb. 15, the truce has slowly taken hold. The Ukrainian army's decision to move its artillery came after 48 hours elapsed without a fatality in the conflict, it said. The nearly year-long fight has taken the lives of nearly 5,800 people, the United Nations has estimated.

Ukraine, NATO and leaders of western countries have repeatedly said Russia is involved in aiding the rebels, an accusation Russia denies. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of not withdrawing heavy weaponry and referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "threat to the entire Western civilization" in an interview with CNBC.

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"I have a key aspiration, and this is the aspiration of the entire Ukrainian nation: Russians, get out of our land. But they are still in Ukraine. Russian military and boots are still on Ukrainian ground," he said.

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