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Ukraine Rebels Reportedly Make Cease-Fire Offer

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET.

Amid reports that Ukraine army forces are closing in on rebel-held Donetsk, the leader of the separatist insurgents says his fighters would accept a cease-fire to avoid a looming humanitarian crisis.

The Associated Press says:

"There was no immediate government response to the statement Saturday from Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so-called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists.

"The thunder of artillery reverberated through the nearly deserted streets of Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city."

Karoun Demirjian, reporting for NPR from St. Petersburg, Russia, says the cease-fire offer comes during a week when Russian officials called for humanitarian intervention in eastern Ukraine — something Ukraine's government says is unnecessary.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that Russia and the U.S. agree that a "humanitarian catastrophe" in eastern Ukraine must be avoided, Karoun says.

The BBC quotes the pro-Russian rebels' military commander, Igor Girkin, as saying his forces have been cut off after Krasnyi Luch, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine, had been captured by the army. Girkin referred to the rebel forces who were supposed to defend the town as "cossacks" who had "run away."

"Commenting on the news from Krasnyi Luch, Donetsk rebel official Andrei Purgin told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency there were still two corridors out of the city of one million people — through the town of Makiivka and the local power station.

"Meanwhile, in the city of Luhansk, second only to Donetsk in its importance to the rebels, there are fears of a humanitarian disaster.

"The city council reported on its website (in Russian) on Saturday that the city of 425,000 people had been without electricity and power for a week. Mobile phones and land lines were not working, it said."

According to the AP:

"Russia, which the Ukrainian government and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels, has called repeatedly for a humanitarian mission into eastern Ukraine. But Kiev and the West suggest that could be just a pretext to send in Russian forces.

"Zakharchenko's statement could be aimed at increasing the international pressure to allow in a Russian mission."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.