KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s new president on Tuesday ordered security officials to create a corridor for safe passage for civilians in eastern regions rocked by a pro-Russian insurgency, as he began to form his government team by tapping a media mogul as chief of staff.
In a statement published online, Petro Poroshenko ordered security agencies to organize transport and relocation to help civilians leave the affected areas. Poroshenko’s brief statement gave no details on where the civilians could be relocated, or what accommodation was available.
Poroshenko also announced the appointments of media executive and business ally Boris Lozhkin as chief of staff and Svyatoslav Tsegolka, a journalist at the TV station owned by Poroshenko, as press secretary.
The new president did not announce any shakeup in defense or the foreign ministry, where changes could be pivotal for Ukraine’s ongoing offensive in the east.
Poroshenko’s move to create a safe passage for civilians comes in the wake of growing concerns that the government’s active campaign against the rebels has contributed to the rising civilian death toll in the east. Government officials say at least 200 people, including 59 servicemen, have been killed in the attacks.
The United Nations’ refugee agency in May said Ukraine’s tensions had resulted in about 10,000 displaced people, both from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and from the violence in the east, but before Tuesday’s announcement no official government assistance had been announced for them.
Poroshenko’s statement gave no indication that he was planning to wind down the government’s operation against the rebels, who have continued to seize administrative buildings, police stations, border posts and garrisons across the region.
At his inauguration on Saturday, Poroshenko said that he would grant amnesty to any insurgents who laid down their arms and had not been involved in bloodshed, and encouraged creation of a safe corridor for rebels to go to Russia. He ruled out negotiations with any “gangsters and killers” among them.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who spoke to journalists briefly in Kiev on Tuesday, praised Poroshenko’s plan to resolve the conflict and promised that $48 million pledged by Vice President Joe Biden to Kiev on Sunday would be used “in eastern Ukraine in conjunction with the president’s peace plan.”