Ukrainian forces started pulling out of the disputed area Tuesday as did Russian forces, the first step to end the five-year conflict in the region. Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE
Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Ukrainian government troops have started withdrawing from the town of Zolote as part of a deal to end the five-year conflict with Russia.
The Russian-backed separatists are also expected to withdraw from the area as part of the Steinmeier Formula, which is part of a larger peace deal. Both sides agreed to a cease-fire on Oct. 17 and officially started pulling out Tuesday. Once the withdrawal from Zolote is complete, Ukrainian forces will pull out of Petrivske.
Not all Ukrainians support President Volodymyr Zelensky's plan, especially war veterans who tried to block troops from leaving and clashed with police.
Zelensky was elected earlier this year on the promise that he would end the conflict with Russia, which has killed 13,000 people since April 2014.
It started with Russia seizing the Crimea and then backing a separatist movement along Ukraine's eastern border. Pro-Russian groups seized the land in protest after pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown and Western-leaning Petro Poroshenko was elected president. Moscow has denied funding, training and arming the rebels in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions despite overwhelming evidence.
A resolution has slowly come into focus in recent months.
Last month, the two sides swapped prisoners. On Oct. 1, Russia and Ukraine agreed on a deal to bring special status to the separatist-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Zelensky could meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for peace talks with assistance from France and Germany, Ukraine Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.
"Several times already it was postponed for technical reasons, but you see how complicated all this is," Prystaiko said. "We are doing all we can to make this meeting happen."