KYIV, Ukraine — Prime Minister Stephen Harper started his visit to Kyiv today amidst a major flare up of violence in Ukraine’s restive east.
Michael Bociurkiw, the Canadian-born spokesman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, says more than 500 explosions were heard in Donetsk city between 11 p.m. and midnight local time on Thursday, and another 100 fell on Friday.
Bociurkiw was clarifying an earlier statement he made in which he said the original burst of 500 shells occurred in the last hour of Friday evening. It in fact happened 24 hours earlier, he said in a follow up email after speaking to reporters in Kyiv.
Harper’s plane touched down at about 12:20 a.m. local time today in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital about 600 kilometres west of the restive zone bordering Russia.
The violence between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels flared anew in the region on Wednesday, but Bociurkiw says the subsequent flare-up is particularly troubling because heavy artillery was moved back to the front lines in violation of the shaky ceasefire agreement that was reached in February.
“This is something we’ve not seen before,” he told reporters.
“I can’t remember in all these months seeing that type of intensity.”
He says this week’s renewed violence in the 15-month long conflict is taking an especially heavy toll on civilians, with as many as two million being displaced.
“A year ago there were no displaced people,” he said.
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.
The Canadian Press