As fighting continued between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, Kyiv and Moscow announced that the presidents of Russia and Ukraine will meet in Minsk next week.
The Kremlin said in a web statement on August 19 that Vladimir Putin would meet with Petro Poroshenko, as well as officials from the European Union and the Eurasian Customs Union, which comprises Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
Putin's office added that "a number of bilateral meetings are also scheduled to take place."
Poroshenko, whose official website also announced the gathering, said that "stabilizing the situation" in eastern Ukraine would be a key topic of discussion.
The Ukrainian statement quoted European Commission President Juan Manuel Barroso as saying that the EU invitation had come from Poroshenko.
Poroshenko's website said the gathering will also include the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Luhansk, Donetsk Fighting Intense
A spokesman for Ukraine’s military said government forces on August 19 were fighting pro-Russian separatists within Luhansk, one of two rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine.
National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said one district of Luhansk “has been liberated” and that “fighting is going on in the center of the city.”
Lysenko said separatists were destroying the infrastructure in populated areas of eastern Ukraine and were placing land mines on roads, bridges, health clinics, and hospitals.
Russian news agencies quoted the separatists in Luhansk as saying on August 19 that Ukrainian forces had fired several artillery barrages into the city center but that there was no combat in the city center.
The Luhansk City Council said on its website on August 19 that civilians had been killed and injured by overnight artillery attacks. It did not cite any figures for the casualties.
Officials in Kyiv said government forces also tightened their encirclement of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk on August 19.
Fighting outside Luhansk halted efforts by government troops to recover the bodies of civilians it says were killed by separatist fighters on August 18 while trying to flee Luhansk.
Later, the government said the bodies of 17 civilians had been recovered and six more of the internally displaced persons were hospitalized, three of them with serious injuries.
Kyiv accuses pro-Russian rebels of firing Russian-supplied rockets and artillery at a convoy that was transporting the adults and children from Luhansk.
Pro-Russian separatists deny carrying out the attack, calling it “blatant propaganda.”
Russian Convoy Still Stalled
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) agreed on August 19 to take “active measures” within hours “to resolve the status” of a large convoy of Russian trucks that Moscow says is carrying humanitarian aid destined for eastern Ukraine.
The ICRC said on August 19 that it was still waiting for all sides to provide security guarantees before it would agree to allow its representatives to accompany the Russian convoy and ensure it isn’t providing weapons to the rebels.
Ukrainian authorities at the border were refusing to inspect the cargo and allow it to cross into Ukrainian territory until separatists have provided those security guarantees to the Red Cross.
"As of 10 a.m. Moscow time, the process of preparing aid for delivery has not been carried out since representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] have not received security guarantees from militiamen," Ukrainian military spokesman Lysenko told reporters.
The latest fighting in eastern Ukraine comes after talks in Berlin on August 17 between the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France failed to reach an agreement on defusing Ukraine’s crisis.
Kyiv Clamps Down On Russian TV
Ukrainian Interior Ministry aide Anton Gerashchenko announced on August 19 that Ukraine has banned 14 Russian television channels, accusing them of spreading war propaganda.
Among the channels Ukrainian authorities banned were Russia Today and Life News.
Gerashchenko made the announcement on his Facebook page, saying the channels were taken off the air in Ukraine because they were "broadcasting propaganda of war and violence."
Kyiv has already banned some broadcasts of Russian television channels as the conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces has grown worse.
Media freedom organizations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have called on Ukrainian authorities to exercise extreme caution when considering banning or censoring media and Internet outlets.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP, Rossia 24, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax