Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists have begun withdrawing troops and weapons from a front-line area in eastern Ukraine, as part of a plan to end the Donbas region's five-year conflict.
Martin Sajdik, the special representative of the Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on October 29 that the sides "renewed the disengagement of forces and hardware" in the town of Zolote in the eastern Luhansk region, and "continued negotiations on the renewal of disengagement" in the nearby town of Petrivske.
"Thus, the sides, literally by stepping backwards, have today made a big step forward," Sajdik said in a statement.
Earlier, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko said the planned withdrawal in Zolote was "taking place right now," adding: "We are beginning [the process] today."
Rodion Miroshnik, a separatist official in the Luhansk region, wrote on his Telegram channel that the pullout was underway on the separatists' side.
Ukrainian armed forces have been fighting the separatists in Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk region since April 2014 in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.
Prystayko said shooting in Zolote stopped on October 17 and the withdrawal began on October 29, once OSCE monitors were on the ground to check compliance by both sides.
The minister said that, after the withdrawal process in Zolote is over, Kyiv will start withdrawing its forces from Petrivske.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who rose to the presidency earlier this year on promises to end the conflict, accepted the withdrawal plan, part of the so-called the Steinmeier Formula, earlier in October.
The Steinmeier Formula lays the groundwork for reinvigorating the larger peace deals known loosely as the Minsk Accords, and the first major international summit on the Ukraine conflict in three years.
Zelenskiy's support of the plan has drawn opposition from right-wing groups, some veteran groups, and activists in Ukraine.
Some 300 people gathered outside the presidential office in Kyiv on October 29, chanting: "No surrender."
During a trip to Zolote on October 26, Zelenskiy said Ukraine had to "look for ways and work to end the war."
"There will be no surrender in any case... I am sure we will succeed and Ukraine will be united again," the Ukrainian president added.
Zelenskiy told reporters on October 10 that the plan proposed in 2016 by then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would be enshrined in a new “special status” law for the separatist-controlled territories and drafted only after a summit of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia -- the so-called Normandy format -- takes place.
Prystayko said on October 29 that he hopes the Normandy talks will take place in November.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's aide, Vladislav Surkov, welcomed steps to resume the disengagement of forces in eastern Ukraine, telling the TASS news agency: "If everything works out in Zolote, similar procedures in Petrivske should follow immediately.And after that, preparations may begin for another Normandy Quartet summit."
Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea in March 2014 and backed a separatist movement in Ukraine’s easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk after Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president, was overthrown and Western-leaning Petro Poroshenko was elected president the same year.
More than 13,000 people have died from the conflict since April 2014.
Moscow has repeatedly denied its role in funding, arming, or training the rebels despite overwhelming evidence, insisting that Kyiv faces a civil war.