Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said 1,200 Ukrainian prisoners taken by pro-Russian separatists have been freed. The signing of new sanctions against Russia by EU governments has meanwhile been delayed.
Speaking during an impromptu "solidarity" visit to the southeastern port city of Mariupol on Monday, Poroshenko said that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine had released 1,200 prisoners.
This comes after a 12-point "protocol" was agreed, as part of a ceasefire deal struck on Friday, that includes the freeing of all prisoners from both sides of the conflict.
No prisoner release has yet been confirmed by the rebels, and a government defense spokesman earlier said only 20 government soldiers had been handed over.
After five months of deadly conflict, Friday's truce, agreed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, was the first deal to be backed by both Kyiv and Moscow.
Announcing his arrival in Mariupol viaTwitter, Poroshenko said, "Mariupol is Ukraine. We will not surrender this land to anyone".
Insisting that he didn't sign Friday's ceasefire deal out of weakness, Poroshenko said, "Mariupol proved that we won't let anybody burn our city to the ground. The workers of Mariupol protected peace and calm in the city". He also emphasized that in eastern Ukraine "our most important resource is people."
"It is impossible to win the conflict just by military means," Poroshenko said. "The more we increase the pressure, the more Russian troops are on our territory."
Despite Friday's ceasefire agreement, renewed violence broke out in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, killing at least one woman in Mariupol.
Ambassador Thomas Greminger of Switzerland, who chairs the Organization for Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on Monday, however, that "overall the ceasefire held even though it is still shaky."
The OSCE is currently overseeing the Ukraine ceasefire as part of the truce agreement,
Delays on sanctions
In Brussels, European Union governments delayed the signing of on a new sanctions package against Russia on Monday, as some of the governments want to discuss how to suspend the sanctions if a Ukraine ceasefire holds.
The EU envoys were due to meet in at 4 p.m (UTC) to decide whether the sanctions, which were agreed in principle on Friday, should first be implemented and then suspended if the ceasefire holds or if they should not be implemented at all at this point.
If the new sanctions come into effect, Russian defense companies will have limited access to the European financial market. Russia will therby only have limited access to services from European energy companies and the EU will curb the export of dual-use technology to Moscow.
The sanctions also include the EU issuing travel bans and freezing assets of 20 high-ranking Russians and separatists from eastern Ukraine.
Russian airspace restrictions?
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Moscow for its part would react if the sanctions are passed by restricting its airspace for Western airlines.
"Our understanding is that we have friendly relations with our partners, which is why the skies over Russia are open to flights," he told Moscow's Vedomosti newspaper.
"If we are sanctioned, we will have to respond," Medvedev added. "If Western airlines (have to) circumvent our airspace, this could bankrupt many companies that are already teetering on the edge of survival."
ksb/tj (Reuters, AFP)