Rebel commander Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, said in an interview on Russian television that "there are active soldiers fighting among us who preferred to spend their vacation not on the beach, but with us, among their brothers, who are fighting for their freedom," the New York Times reported.

Russia's "aim is to freeze this conflict for a long period of time," NATO's Tak said. "It's likely that the situation will end in a stalemate. The foothold that's been created will be expanded and secured so that the separatists will not suffer a defeat."

In Kiev, a small crowd demonstrated outside the military's headquarters calling for the army to relieve embattled militiamen in the east of the country, while the city was otherwise quiet and showed little sign of concern.

"It's a stab in the back," said Oleg, an aviation engineer in Kiev, who trained and served with ethnic Russians in the Soviet Army and who asked that his last name not be used. Ukrainians will fight to keep their country free of Russia, Oleg said. Russia's attacks, he added, may in the end benefit Ukraine. "Putin united our people as nobody before."

Peter S. Green is a New York-based writer who spent more than a decade covering the former Soviet Bloc.

Follow @PeterGreenNews

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