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September 22, 2017

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Ukraine accuses Russia of 'invasion' as aid trucks move in

IZVARYNE, Ukraine -- Ukraine accused Moscow of invading after Russia unilaterally sent the first part of its mammoth aid convoy into eastern Ukraine on Friday, warning against any attacks on the trucks.

Moscow described a week-long delay in allowing the vehicles across the border an "outrage" as it ordered the convoy into rebel-held territory, despite Red Cross officials refusing to provide an escort because of security concerns.

"This is a direct invasion," the head of Ukraine's security service, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, was quoted by news agencies as saying.

As about 70 trucks rolled into the restive territory, Ukraine's foreign ministry warned that separatist fighters were shelling the convoy's possible route to the rebel bastion of Lugansk some 63 kilometers (40 miles) away and could be planning a "provocation."

Ukraine and Russia both said the other side was responsible for the convoy's security, and Russia's foreign ministry warned "against any attempts to disrupt a totally humanitarian mission."

Kiev condemned Moscow's "deliberate and aggressive" move and said border guards were blocked from checking the contents of most of the white lorries.

Russia has been haggling with Ukraine over the convoy amid fears in Kiev and the West that the trucks could be used to bolster a flagging pro-Russian rebellion in the east or provide a pretext for Russia to send in troops.

Russia insists it just wants to get urgently needed assistance to residents in the stricken region who have been without water and electricity for weeks.

Moscow said it was ready to have Red Cross officials accompany the convoy, but the organization said it had backed out of the operation because of fierce fighting raging in the area where the trucks are heading.

"We are not part of the convoy in any way," Victoria Zotikova, the Red Cross spokeswoman in Moscow, told AFP.

"We have not received sufficient security guarantees from the fighting parties," she said, adding that a small team of Red Cross officials in Lugansk reported heavy shelling overnight.

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