LUHANSK, Ukraine – Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated sharply on Friday as Moscow sent more than 130 trucks rolling across the border in what it said was a mission to deliver humanitarian aid. Ukraine called it a “direct invasion,” and the U.S. and NATO condemned it as well.
In another ominous turn in the crisis, NATO said it has mounting evidence that Russian troops are operating inside Ukraine and launching artillery attacks from Ukrainian soil – significantly deeper involvement in the fighting than the West has previously alleged.
The trucks, part of a convoy of 260 vehicles, entered Ukraine without government permission after being held up at the border for a week amid fears that the mission was a Kremlin ploy to help the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
By late afternoon, trucks had reached the city of Luhansk, whose war-reduced population of a quarter-million people has suffered under intense fighting over the past several weeks between Ukrainian forces and the separatists.
Russia said the white-tarped vehicles were carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags.
Some of the trucks were opened to reporters a few days ago, and at least some of those items could be seen. But Associated Press journalists following the convoy across rough country roads heard the trucks’ contents rattling and sliding around Friday, suggesting many vehicles were only partially loaded.