IZVARYNE, Ukraine – As a shaky cease-fire in the east entered its final hours Thursday, thousands of Ukrainians in cars stuffed with belongings lined up at the border to cross into Russia, some vowing never to return.
Many said they were most frightened for their children and desperate to take them to safety.
A commander at the rebel-controlled border post outside the city of Luhansk said 5,000 people had left by evening, joining a stream that he said has continued unabated during the weeklong truce that has failed to end the gunfire and shelling.
Russia says tens of thousands of Ukrainians have come in the 2 1/2 months since Ukraine’s government began fighting separatists in the east, a heavily industrial region with a large population of ethnic Russians, many of whom feel strong ties to Moscow.
Airstrikes and artillery attacks by the Ukrainian military have infuriated many residents, and many crossing the border on Thursday said they were fleeing the fighting, which has killed more than 400 people since mid-April by the United Nations’ estimate.
Those who talked to Associated Press journalists, however, said nothing to indicate that they supported the armed separatists, who have seized government buildings, declared independence and asked Russia to annex the region.
With the cease-fire set to expire today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on Russia to support his peace plan with deeds, not words.
He urged Moscow to stop the flow of fighters from Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they, too, were looking for more action from Moscow ahead of a summit today of European Union leaders, who will be considering a new round of sanctions against Russia.
It is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they’re moving to help disarm the separatists, to encourage them to disarm, Kerry said Thursday in Paris.
The summit also will see Ukraine sign a sweeping trade agreement with the EU that will bind it more closely to the West.