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Fighting Continues To Block Investigators From MH17 Wreckage


An international team of investigators has arrived at the debris field of Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Getting there seemed almost impossible because of ongoing fighting between Ukraine and separatists in the region. But the momentum in that fight might be shifting, including in the area around the crash site.

Financial Times correspondent Guy Chazan is reporting on the fighting which has reached the regional capital Donetsk. Do you think that the Army does have the advantage at this moment? Does it look like they might be able to put down the rebellion at least in that area?

GUY CHAZAN: Well, they certainly have been making some significant gains in recent days. One of the main things they've been able to do is to sort of create a wedge between areas controlled by the rebels of that Donetsk's Peoples Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic. They're essentially two different forces and their territory was sort of contiguous but now the Ukrainians have managed to separate them. And that's very important for the Ukrainian side because the Donetsk rebels, who are probably the more numerous, we're being supplied, allegedly, by Russia.

Now, because they've been divided essentially it's becoming very difficult to supply the Donetsk rebels from across the border in Russia. So, that's a sort of very important tactical victory for the Ukrainians, to have split the two forces in that way. And they really do seem to be encircling Donetsk now from all sides. Besieging the city very much in the same ways they besieged Sloviansk, which was the previous rebel stronghold, which they abandoned at the beginning of July.

WERTHEIMER: What about civilians? Are civilians in danger while this process goes on?

CHAZAN: Well, yes they are because what's happening is that the Ukrainian forces are now surrounding Donetsk on all sides, as I say, and it's very unclear whether they're actually going to attempt a sort of offensive on the city. I think such a move would be fraught with danger for the civilian population. But already you're seeing skirmishes on the edges of the city on the outskirts. You see exchanges of fire between Ukrainian forces and rebels who are sort of entrenched in, often in residential areas and civilians are being caught in the crossfire.

I mean, one of the big advantages really is the fact that so many Donetsk residents have actually quit the city in the last few weeks. So, a lot of the apartment blacks are actually standing empty at the moment, which means when they get hit the civilian death toll is actually much less than it might normally be.

WERTHEIMER: Do you have any idea who the population blames for this situation? I'm wondering about the people who voted last spring to succeed from Ukraine. Do you think that these people might be able to reconcile and go back into being part of Ukraine?

CHAZAN: Well, so far the evidence suggests that possibly yes, because I was in Sloviansk last week - this was a rebel stronghold for many weeks. And now it's been taken over by Ukrainian troops. And the population seems very relieved that the war is over. I think they're - they may have supported the separatist while they were here but I think they did get a bit sick of them after a while. So, finally when the rebels left people were able to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to their normal lives.

WERTHEIMER: Guy Chazan of the Financial Times. Thank you very much.

CHAZAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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