Ukraine\’s President Petro Poroshenko announced a week-long unilateral ceasefire would begin Friday in the separatist east to give the pro-Russian rebels a chance to disarm.
"The forces of the anti-terrorist operation will halt military action starting today and through June 27," Poroshenko was cited as saying by the Ukrainian interior ministry on its website.
It quoted President Petro Poroshenko as saying that during that time, government forces would fire only if they came under attack from separatists, Reuters reported.
Heavy fighting had been continuing between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels, with new reports of military hardware entering Ukraine.
The ceasefire had been expected ahead of the implementation of a peace plan.
Ukraine’s new president called it a first step in a peace plan designed to end the deadly pro-Russian insurgency. The Ukrainian government publicized some of the plan\’s provisions on Friday, ahead of the official announcement.
The plan calls for a unilateral cease-fire that would give rebels a chance to disarm or leave the country. It also includes establishing a corridor allowing separatist fighters to leave Ukraine for Russia, the creation of a 10-kilometer buffer zone along the Ukrainian-Russian border, decentralization of power in the country and protecting the use of the Russian language.
Poroshenko emphasized the need for effective border control and the release of hostages seized by the rebels.
Poroshenko made his first trip as president to the troubled east on Friday, visiting Ukrainian troops and speaking to residents in the town of Sviatohirsk, north of rebel-held Sloviansk.
Speaking during his visit, he said the ceasefire "doesn\’t mean we won\’t fight back against any aggression towards our troops" but that it was intended to give rebels time to disarm.
"We will do everything to protect the territory of our state," he said.
The Ukrainian president discussed details of the plan on the phone Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the French news agency AFP, Poroshenko sought to shore up the Kremlin’s support for a truce in the fighting.
The Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Friday quoted Valery Bolotov, a separatist leader who heads the self-declared Luhansk People\’s Republic, as saying the rebels would not disarm until government forces completely withdrew from eastern Ukraine.
The government said fresh clashes erupted in eastern Ukraine Friday after seven soldiers were killed in fighting late Thursday. According to press reports and a video posted to the Internet, a pro-Russian separatist armored column made up of several tanks and armored personnel carriers was seen moving in the Donetsk region.
Meanwhile, the deputy White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said Friday that the United States is concerned about the buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine.
His comment came a day after NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "at least a few thousand more" Russian troops had been deployed to the border region, a moved he called a "very regrettable step backwards."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a deployment of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border had been planned in advance and was designed to reinforce Russia\’s border security.
Earlier in the conflict, up to 40,000 Russian troops had been deployed near the border with Ukraine.
Signing date set for EU agreement
Poroshenko said on Thursday he would sign a controversial association agreement with the EU on 27 June.
The refusal by Ukraine\’s former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign the EU association agreement last November triggered the unrest that led to his ouster earlier this year.
The latest developments come amid tension between Russia and Ukraine over the removal of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia\’s annexation of Crimea.